Archive for “Youth Strength Training” Category

Concussion Awareness & Prevention for the Strength Professional – Joe Powell

Part 1 of 2 on concussion awareness and mitigation for the S&C Professional focuses on defining the injury and its primary root causes, as well as clearing up common misconceptions about the injury. The article focuses in on published research to define prevalence and rate of instance among popular sports. 

The term concussion has long been feared, yet largely misunderstood by both athletes and coaches alike. However, as of late, concussion awareness in athletics has been at an all-time high. Increases in clinical diagnoses of the injury as well as research devoted to the cause, effects, and preventative strategies have helped spearhead awareness and thus increased prevention attempts. High profile athletes have begun to step forward into the public eye to raise awareness on concussions and the subsequent consequences that can accompany the injury and, unfortunately, plague their everyday lives. Controversial debate has even taken place in professional sports among league officials and referees to change the rules of the sports where concussions occur at high rates. Sure, concussions have always occurred in the sports that we love, but only recently have they garnered the mass attention necessary to begin the prevention process at all levels. Like any other injury commonly sustained by athletes, it is our job as strength and conditioning professionals to help lead the movement on mitigation and make it a priority in our training.

The first step in creating a program to help our athletes minimize the occurrence of any injury is to better understand the nature of the injury and everything that accompanies it.

What is a concussion and how can it occur?

A concussion is the result of external force being applied upon the body wherein the result of the impact causes a sudden acceleration or deceleration of the head, resulting in a collision between the brain and the skull. Sustaining a concussion can result in severe cognitive, psychological and structural damage to an individual. Common symptoms of the injury include headache, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and even loss of consciousness. The injury may last days, weeks and in some cases even longer. The severity of the injury is dependent upon many factors. How it was caused, the force of the trauma that occurred, the amount of previous head injuries the individual has sustained, and even the time it took to report the injury to a licensed health care provider are just a sampling of factors that influence the severity of a concussion.

From Children’s Hospital Oakland

Head injuries such as concussions are most commonly thought to occur due to a direct blow to the head via another athlete. These are your big highlight reel hits in football or the massive check into the boards in hockey. This scenario is certainly one of the most common causes of concussion in sport, however it is far from the only one. The direct contact hits by another individual that result in a concussed athlete are easy to recognize because the signs and symptoms of a concussion are usually immediately on display. It has almost become the norm to expect an injury when a vicious hit is sustained during play. However, these types of concussions may partially explain why the injury is so misunderstood. When an athlete displays concussion symptoms to themselves or others, yet cannot trace the symptoms to an event where a large collision took place, they may not actually think they’ve suffered a concussion. This results in athletes failing to report their injury and thus do not get the treatment needed to be placed on a proper rehabilitation protocol.

Other common scenarios where concussions are sustained in athletics may not be as recognizable as the highlight reel hit or direct head contact. Yet these events are every bit as serious, even if though go unrecognized initially. These situations may include when an athlete suffers repeated low-level blows to the head, when an external object (not another human) hits an athlete in the cranial region, or when a player gets wrapped up and their head becomes susceptible to hitting the environment around them, even if at a low velocity. To put into perspective how common these injuries can occur, look no further than specific examples of routine plays that happen in almost any game or match. Instances may be when a soccer player attempts a header and strikes the ball with great force, when a baseball or softball strikes an athlete on the helmet, when a wrestler is taken down and cannot brace themselves before hitting the mat, or a lineman in football colliding against defenders for the duration of a game. The possibilities are numerous. The root cause of concussion can certainly differ, but the injury remains incredibly serious regardless of how it is sustained. Now that the injury and some of its causes are better understood, more effective strides can be made to minimize its prevalence.

Which athletes are at risk?

For many years the primary concern around concussions was based around contact sports, such as football, hockey, rugby and lacrosse, and the high-velocity collisions that accompany them. These contact sports are primarily male-dominated, which meant if you were female or played a non-contact sport you were likely safe from getting a concussion. Even youth athletes that played contact sports were not seen as a high risk of concussion since they could not typically generate the high-velocity impacts that are usually seen at the high school level and above. Those assumptions are actually quite false according to numerous studies on the topic and given the circumstances previously mentioned, it is now better understood that athletes of all ages, both male and female, across all sports, can be at risk of sustaining a concussion in their sport. The goal of bringing awareness to parents and athletes of the potential injuries in sport is not to scare them off and prevent them from playing the games they love, rather it’s to educate with the hopes of increased prevention methods, as well as understanding the proper steps to report and treat an injury if it does indeed occur.

Concussions and youth sports

Research has emerged within the last several years that paints a better picture on the prevalence of concussions in youth and high school sports. The CDC estimates that 20% of the roughly 1.7 million concussions that are reported each year are sports related, with the majority of those stemming from participants in youth and high school sports. It was reported that youth athletes who sustained a concussion from participation in contact/collision sports account for 3-8% of all sports-related injuries reported to the ER (Kelly, et al. 2001). Given the high number of participants in youth sports, those statistics are staggering. For years, concussion instances in youth sports was long an afterthought, yet studies show that young athletes are in fact likely more susceptible to concussions than adults. Concussions represent 8.9% of all high school athletic injuries compared to just 5.8% at the collegiate level (Karlin, 2011, Boden, et al. 2007). Possible explanations for higher percentages of concussion rates in youth athletics include youth and adolescent athletes possessing a larger head to body size ratio, they possess weaker neck muscles, and have an increased injury vulnerability due to the brain still developing (Sim et, al. 2008). To make matters worse, research suggests that children and adolescents take longer to recover than adults (Grady, 2010).

A systematic review and meta-analysis done by Pfister et. Al. examined the incidence of concussions in youth sports. 23 articles were accepted for systematic review (out of 698 considered for review). The accepted research focused on both male and female athletes under the age of 18 and included the following sports as part of the research: football, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, basketball, baseball, softball, wrestling, field hockey, track, taekwondo, volleyball, and cheerleading. The data compiled from the studies demonstrates concussion prevalence in terms of what the researchers refer to as an athletic exposure, or AE. The researchers define an athletic exposure as “one player participating in any game or practice, regardless of the amount of time spent playing and therefore at risk of sustaining an injury.” In this analysis, the data shows concussion prevalence out of 1000 athletic exposures across the 12 sports. The average incidence of an athlete sustaining a concussion across all identified sports was 0.23 per 1000 athletic exposures. The numbers range drastically dependent upon the sport. Rugby was the highest at 4.18, whereas volleyball the lowest at 0.03. The average incidence of an athlete receiving a concussion may seem low when thought of at 0.23/1000 AE, however when taken into consideration that as of 2011, 30-45 million children, and an additional 7 million high school students participated in athletics, that ratio (.023/1000) is actually incredibly startling. The following chart taken from the systematic review by Pfister et. Al shows the reviewed sports and their rates of concussions in order from highest to lowest, as well as the studies the data was taken from.  

The popularity of youth and high school sports are at all-time highs in today’s society. Parents, coaches and athletes alike are constantly vying for any edge in performance they can find. While the constant desire for improving sports and fitness related skills is great for the field of strength and conditioning, it’s imperative that athletes, parents, and coaches allocate time on injuries and preventative methods. Understand that injuries do occur, and will keep occurring, however the better understanding of how and why they occur, the better we can aim to mitigate them. This is especially important in regards to the serious injuries such as concussions where the long term effects are still unfortunately largely unknown.

In Part 2, we will examine some of the preventative measures and how strength & conditioning professionals can assist in protecting athletes from brain injuries.

References

Boden BO, Tacchetti RL, Cantu RC, et al. Catastrophic head injuries in high school and college football players. Am J Sports Med 2007

Grady M. Concussion in the adolescent athlete. Curr Probl Pediatric Health Care 2010;40:154–69.

Karlin AM. Concussion in the pediatric and adolescent population: “different population, different concerns”. PM R 2011;3(Suppl 2):S369–79.

Kelly KD, Lissel HL, Rowe BH, et al. Sport and recreation-related head injuries treated in the emergency department. Clin J Sport Med 2001

Pfister T, Pfister K, Hagel B, et al The incidence of concussion in youth sports: a systematic review and meta-analysis Br J Sports Med 2016;50:292-297.

Sim A, Terryberry-Spohr L, Wilson K. Prolonged recovery of memory functioning after mild traumatic brain injury in adolescent athletes. Neurosurgery 2008

 

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Utah State University.  He formerly held a similar position at Central Michigan University where he also taught classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  He is also the author of the IYCA Guide to Manual Resistance Strength Training.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

Top 10 Posts of 2018

The IYCA would like to thank you for another incredible year.  We have several amazing things coming in 2019, but before we get there, let’s take a look back at the Top 10 posts from 2018.  

Find a nice place to read (or watch videos) and spend a few minutes during the holidays to go through anything you’ve missed.  There is a TON of great information from some of the best in the profession (These are NOT necessarily in order of “importance”):

#10 Power Clean Progression – Tobias Jacobi – Tobias was named the High School S & C Coach of the year, and his exercise progression series was a great addition to our Free Content area.

#9 Early Sports Specialization: Getting Them to Listen – Brett Klika – Brett is clearly one of the best youth trainers in the world, and this article gave advice on how to educate parents/coaches.

#8 Rethinking Long-Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso – Sometimes the status quo needs to be challenged so that we can move forward.

#7 Bodyweight Training Progressions – Jordan Tingman – College S & C Coach, Jordan Tingman, joined the IYCA community with some awesome content that incorporates written and video material.

#6 A Strength Coach Career Path: A Winding Road – Joe Powell – A long-time contributor, and another college S & C coach, Joe uses his personal experiences as a backdrop to developing a career in sports performance.

#5 You Can’t Microwave an Athlete – Jim Kielbaso – One of the most “shared” articles of the year, this piece is very helpful for educating parents/coaches about why our approach works.

#4 The Stretching Conundrum – Dr. Greg Schaible – A talented and well-respected Physical Therapist, Greg has been another great addition to the IYCA community this year.  This article gets you thinking about how to best utilize stretching/flexibility work.

#3 Strength Coach’s Guide to Achilles Tendinopathy – Dr. Greg Schaible – One of Greg’s most popular pieces, probably because we all work with athletes who experience Achilles pain at some point.

#2 Plyometrics: 3 Ways They May Be Hurting Your Athletes – Phil Hueston – IYCA Advisory Council member and long-time member of the community, Phil is one of the most entertaining writers in the industry.  This article explains how many coaches mis-use plyometrics.

#1 The #1 Predictor of Coaching Success – Karsten Jensen – International S & C expert Karsten Jensen created this post after a conversation about surface learning began.  It turned out to be one of the most important pieces of the year because it creates a framework for expanding your knowledge.

If you just can’t get enough, here’s one more for you:

Bonus Practical is the New Functional – Jim Kielbaso – Most of us don’t coach in a vacuum.  Athletes are doing a million things, and we usually don’t get to control all of it.  This article discusses how important it is to create programs that are practical instead of “perfect.”

Fun Core Exercises for Young Athletes – Erica Suter

“Okay kids, it’s time for core work!” says the team coach.

After these words are uttered, young athletes might sigh in frustration or dread the countless reps of Sit-Ups ahead.  It’s like they’ve been programmed to expect core training to be boring and difficult.  

While I am not totally against Sit-Ups, we must ask ourselves as youth coaches, ‘what am I trying to accomplish?’ when programming core exercises. Moreover, ‘how am I helping these young athletes become more resilient for their sport?’

Core training must be approached in a multi-faceted manner, which takes more than just instructing kids to do countless Sit-Ups. Since the core encompasses muscle groups beyond the “six pack abs,” all muscles must be attacked when programming core exercises for kids, so we are improving their performance in sports, and reducing the chance of injuries.

Think of the core as the foundation of an athlete’s body – it allows kids to maintain balance, transfer force, sprint with clean mechanics, and perform sport specific actions with power. Multiple muscle groups must be activated in order for these actions to be optimized.

In soccer, for example, if a kid wants a stronger shot, the core must stabilize the spine in order to for the hips to work efficiently, then rotate correctly so there is enough power produced when the ball is struck. Not only will the core produce power, but it needs to stabilize the spine in order to minimize the stress on the low back. More core stability, then, equals less low back compensation for many sport-specific actions.

With that said, core training must ensure kids are strengthening all of the muscles that wrap around the torso, from the hip extensors, to hip flexors, to the anterior core muscles, to the internal and external obliques.

While core training may be difficult, it can also be enjoyable. Eventually, Sit-Ups may prove too easy for kids, or perhaps too monotonous. To that end, kids enjoy challenges. Kids enjoy variety. Kids enjoy games. Kids enjoy the novelty of new exercises.

Here are four fun core exercises you can do with your youth athletes (and get creative with):

1. Resistance Band Chaos Dead Bug

The Dead Bug is an excellent exercise for anterior core activation as well as stability through the lumbo-pelvic region. Once athletes master the conventional Dead Bug, here is a fun, yet challenging partner variation to try:

Perform 2-3 sets, 15-30 seconds.

2. Chaos Ball Dead Bug

This is another way to add more external “chaos” to the Dead Bug. The more force your partner applies to the ball, the more it ups the ante. Youth athletes love this one because they have fun challenging their partner.

Perform 2-3 sets, 15-30 seconds.

3. Bird Dog High Fives

The Bird Dog is a stellar movement for contralateral coordination, as well as anterior core and gluteal activation. However, sometimes, the conventional Bird Dog can become too easy as well as monotonous. Here is a fun game to try to spice up the Bird Dog movement:

Perform 2-3 sets, 6-8 reps each side.

4. Pull-Up Hold

The Pull-Up Hold is not only an excellent upper body strength exercise but also a difficult anterior core and gluteal exercise. Being able to maintain full body tension by squeezing the glutes and bracing the core is extremely challenging, and will help kids to build serious strength. To make this drill more fun, I like to do Pull-Up Hold Battles and have two athletes face off on who can hold the Pull-Up the longest.


Perform 2-3 sets, for as many seconds as possible.

So which one will you give a whirl first?

I promise your youth athletes will be inspired by the challenges these exercise present, as well as look forward to performing them. Additionally, they will feel stronger, more resilient, and more confident to play their sport. Fun, yet challenging core exercises that work all the muscles in the torso and hone stability are a win-win.

Erica Suter is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and soccer performance coach at JDyer Strength and Conditioning in Baltimore, Maryland. She works with youth athletes across the state of Maryland in the areas of strength, conditioning, agility, and technical soccer training. Besides coaching, she is a passionate writer, and writes on youth fitness as well as soccer performance training on her blog www.ericasuter.com. She also is the creator of the Total Youth Soccer Fitness Program, which is a comprehensive guide for coaches and parents on how to train youth soccer players both safely and effectively. Her mission is to inspire a love for movement and play in kids, and motivate them to stay active for a lifetime.

Connect with her here:
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Top 10 Tips for Training Young Athletes – Jim Kielbaso

The IYCA has produced hundreds of articles and dozens of courses/certifications on important topics related to training young athletes.  There is a lot to know and understand about long term athlete development (LTAD) and creating exceptional training experiences for young athletes.  While it’s impossible to have a full understanding of everything involved in this process, this article boils it down into the Top 10 tips for training young athletes.
Whether you’re a trainer, coach, administrator or parent, this list will give you a basic understanding of the most important concepts involved in training young athletes.  training young athletes
1.  Progress over Performance: Focusing on wins and losses is like fools gold.  You may have won the game or race, but that doesn’t mean you made progress or performed your best.  Celebrate progress rather than performance.  Have a plan and goal for training, and don’t let unimportant competitions get in the way of sticking to the plan.  For young athletes, competitions should be viewed as opportunities to use what has been worked on in practice rather than judging who is good or bad.
2.  Think Long-Term:  Rather than taking shortcuts to see some short-term success, build a strong foundation that will allow an athlete to build upon. Young athletes need to develop fundamental motor skills, coordination and all-around athleticism that will enable them to perfect sports skills later in their development.  Athletic development takes time and can’t be rushed.  The goal shouldn’t be winning the game this weekend.  Instead, build athletic qualities that will allow for continued growth.
3.  Balance General & Specific:  Many coaches want to focus exclusively on one sport or event in order to achieve early success.  While this may help children perform well at a young age, you cannot go back and develop foundational skills like coordination and motor control once the window has closed.  While sports skills certainly need to be taught, be sure to include “general athleticism” drills when training young athletes to build a stronger capacity to learn and perfect skills later.  These two concepts should not be mutually exclusive.  It’s absolutely possible to use the warm-up period to enhance athleticism by including fundamental motor skills, plyometrics, coordination activities, strength development, and mobility work.

kids meeting athletes

4.  Ignite a Fire & Develop Confidence: The goals of every youth sports coach should always be to inspire a desire to excel and to keep kids coming back for more.  Give them examples of what they can be by introducing them to older athletes, taking them to events, and painting mental images of what their future may hold.  Get them to see where they could be someday.  Keep dreams alive in every child until they decide to move on.  Many athletes mature late, and just need to stay with a sport long enough for their strength, size, and power to develop.

5.  Teach Young Athletes More Than Sports: Sports are metaphors for life.  Use sports to teach lessons about the value of hard work, listening, cooperation, repetition, and other life skills.  If all you focus on is the sport, you are missing an opportunity to make a much larger impact on a young athlete.
6.  Focus on the Nervous System: While young athletes can improve strength and endurance, their hormones and anaerobic energy systems are not fully developed yet, so they will not see major improvements in muscular size or anaerobic capacity until adolescence.  Before that time, focus on developing the nervous system by training technique, coordination and fundamental abilities like balance and kinesthetic awareness.  Gradually change the focus over time as the athlete matures.
7.  Balance Variety & Repetition: Variety is an excellent way to stimulate the developing nervous system, but repetition will develop technique.  Young athletes need both and should be taught the value of repetition and the enjoyment of variety.
8.  Basic Scientific Principles Apply: The two most important scientific training principles to understand when training young athletes are Systematic Progression and Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands (S.A.I.D. Principle).  The S.A.I.D. Principle states that the body will adapt very specifically to the stimulus it encounters.  In other words, we get better at what we practice.  For example, if we want to increase strength, we must consistently put the muscle under tension with intensity.  It will respond by adding more protein strands which will eventually manifest as a stronger, larger muscle.  On the other hand, performing low intensity, high volume exercises will increase muscular endurance rather than muscular strength.  Both are good, but you need to understand the goal before you choose the training method.
progressive overload for training young athletes
Systematic Progression is the concept of systematically increasing the demands placed upon the athlete in order to stimulate constant adaptation.  As a very simple example, if an athlete wants to increase her pull-up strength, and can currently do 5 pull-ups, she should eventually strive to get 6 reps.  When six reps are achieved, she should try to do 7 reps.  This is a very basic example, but the point is that athletes should constantly be challenged to do that which they are not currently able to do.  This concept holds true for all physical attributes.
9.  Slight Overreach:  This concept works hand-in-hand with Systematic Progression, but can include practices and competitions as well.  The idea is to push athletes barely out of their comfort zone – both in training and competition.  Have them compete against opponents that are slightly better than them so they are always striving to improve.  Be very careful not to put them in too many situations that are completely out of their reach as this often leads to frustration and decreased self-esteem.  It’s also important for young athletes to feel successful, so give them opportunities to succeed as well.  There should be a healthy balance between a young athlete feeling confident and knowing he/she can improve.  Great coaches are able to keep confidence high while helping the athlete work toward larger goals.
10. Use Volume, Don’t Abuse It:  The volume (or amount) of work is one of the most misunderstood concepts in athlete development, and it can be highly individualized.  A volume of work that is too low will not elicit progress.  On the other hand, a very high volume of work is often unnecessary and leads to injuries, boredom, and burnout.  An athletes biological age, training age, genetics, nutrition, sleep patterns, and outside activities are all factors in how much volume is appropriate.  Coaches and parents need to constantly monitor a young athlete’s physical, mental and emotional well-being, and be prepared to make adjustments at any time.
These 10 tips provide an overview of the most important concepts to understand when training young athletes.  For more in-depth information on the concepts and specifics on how to implement them, the IYCA encourages you to go through the Youth Fitness Specialist Level 1 certification and look into the Long Term Athlete Development Roadmap.
Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He has authored multiple books, articles and training products and has spoken at events around the world.  He holds a BS in Exercise Science, an MS in Kinesiology and has gone through multiple certifications through the IYCA, NSCA, NASM and more.  Jim is a former college strength & conditioning coach and has trained thousands of athletes at every level of competition.  He runs a successful NFL Combine training program in Michigan and has been hired as a consultant for major sports programs like the University of Michigan Football Program and the University of Kentucky Basketball Program.

Periodization as a Strategy, Not a Tactic – Karsten Jensen

Do you apply periodization to the training of your athletes? Or do you believe that periodization does not apply to youth athletes?

Periodization is a controversial topic within our field. Below are some of the critique points that I have come across in recent years:

  • Periodization is not scientifically proven.
  • Periodization is overrated and over studied.
  • Periodization is too rigid and does not work for our athletes.
  • Periodization is too time-consuming.
  • Periodization is too complex and only for people in lab coats

These critique points may be true if your understanding of Periodization is limited to Periodization as a tactic. However, Periodization is fundamentally a strategy.

From my personal experience as a strength coach, author, and lecturer over the last 25 years, I have found it incredibly useful – even absolutely necessary – to distinguish between principles, strategies, and tactics in order to really understand a particular topic.

Thus, the purpose of this article is to

  • Highlight the difference between principles, strategies, and tactics as it applies to Periodization.
  • Show that you can reject any one example of Periodization as a tactic, but you cannot reject Periodization as a strategy (and this insight will be extremely helpful)

What is a principle?

A “principle” is a basic truth, law or assumption (thefreedictionary.com).  first principle is a basic, foundational, self-evident proposition or assumption that cannot be deduced from any other proposition or assumption.  

What could be deemed a first principle of athletic development? I recommend that you answer that in detail for yourself in a way that resonates with your work.

My background is strength and conditioning, not coaching a specific sport. Thus, here is a suggestion for a 1st Principle of  Athletic Development as centered on the physical side:

Optimal development of bio-motor abilities (physical qualities) to support the ability to practice and compete (the specific sport/s) – with maximal quality – at the desired level, at a given age.

You could say that a principle is vague. However, the above phrase invites critical questions and consequences:

  • What does optimal mean? It is the balance of all involved abilities that support the young athlete’s ability to practice and compete.
  • Supporting the ability to practice and compete with maximal quality implies prevention of injury and the nourishment of motivation, joy and confidence.

Thus, the 1st Principle defines the overall objective of our work as coaches.

How are we going to achieve this objective?

 

Figure 1: The overarching task is defining the 1st Principle. The strategy is chosen to achieve the 1st Principle. Tactics are used to execute the strategy.

 

A Strategy is Chosen to Achieve the Objective That is Defined by the 1st Principle

A strategy is the larger, overall plan designed to achieve a major or overall aim. The strategy will be comprised of several tactics.  A strategy is broad, big-picture and future-oriented (1)

The training literature contains multiple but related definitions of Periodization. (2)  Fundamentally, the word periodization means “a division in to periods.”  

If you do a web search with the word periodization, you will find books on sports training, history and geology.

Thus, “periodization” is a word similar to “categorization” (dividing items – for example, apples divided into categories) or classification (for example dividing athletes into age groups, levels or weight classes).

From the definition of periodization as a ‘division into periods” it becomes clear that, fundamentally, periodization is a strategy for organizing long-term training by dividing the training into shorter periods.

We can take this definition a step further and suggest a more training-specific definition of periodization:

“Periodization is a division of a longer training cycle into periods with different goals, structures, and content of the training program.  When these periods are sequenced in such a way that the training adaptations in one period prepare the athlete for the training in the next period, then the selected physical abilities are optimized at the goal-attainment date.”

The above definition highlights why periodization as a strategy is virtually unavoidable unless your training programs always:

  • Are geared toward the same training adaptation
  • Have the same structure
  • Have the same content

Tactics

Clearly, there are more decisions to be made before we have a finished program. These more detailed decisions are the “tactics.” The strategy can be executed with different tactics.  Tactics are plans, tasks, or procedures that can be carried out. Tactics may be part of a larger strategy.

So far, Linear Periodization, Reverse Linear Periodization, Undulating Periodization, and Block Periodization are the only systems that have been researched in controlled studies. These systems are all periodization tactics.

I have never seen a critique of periodization as a strategy. When I have seen a critique of periodization, the critique has been of a particular periodization tactic.

As a trainer, you can look at any one of those systems and decide whether or not they are not ideal tactics for the athletes that you work.

However, once you make that choice, you still have to decide how are you going to organize your long-term training?

Conclusion

This article described a hierarchy of 1st principles, strategy, and tactics. It made the argument that periodization is fundamentally a strategy. Yet, the critique of periodization is typically centered on tactics rather than principles or strategies.

A “next step” in exploring periodization is the question about how to divide the long-term period into shorter periods as well as a deeper look into the characteristics of the mentioned periodization systems.  More to come….

  1. https://www.diffen.com/difference/Strategy_vs_Tactic
  2. Jensen, K. Appendix 1. Periodization Simplified: How To Use The Flexible Periodization Method on the Fly. www.yestostrength.com

 

Karsten Jensen has helped world class and Olympic athletes from 26 sports disciplines since 1993. Many of his athletes have won Olympic medals, European Championships, World Championships and ATP Tournaments.

Karsten is the first strength coach to create a complete system of periodization, The Flexible Periodization Method – the first complete method of periodization dedicated to holistic, individualized and periodized (H.I.P) training programs.

Karsten shares all aspects of The Flexible Periodization Method (FPM) with his fellow strength coaches and personal trainers through The Flexible Periodization Method workshop series (Levels I-VIII).  Find more information at www.yestostrength.com.

Anti-Rotation & Anti-Extension Core Exercises: Jordan Tingman

When coaches hear the term “abdominal exercises,” they often think of movements such as basic sit-ups, Russian twists and crunches. While these exercises may create a feeling of working the abdominals, they do not train the core to do what it’s real job is: stabilization.

A stable core is a healthy core. It doesn’t always mean that it will look “shredded” (that has more to do with diet that exercise), but it can resist unwanted movement throughout the spine to protect the back. With proper core training, your athlete can learn to lock the spine into place during loaded exercises to ensure back safety, as well as correctly translate force through the lower body into the upper body.

Integrating a wide variety of anti-extension and anti-rotational exercises to your training can allow the athlete to create the motor patterns necessary to lock the core into proper position before executing movement and exercise.

Anti-extension and anti-rotation core exercises are important in every athletic setting, regardless of the sport. This training can ensure proper core bracing during loaded exercises throughout their training sessions, and can help athletes maintain posture and transfer forces when running, throwing, kicking and hitting.  These exercises also allow for safer training as the athlete advances into more intense exercises.  

Anti-Extension Core Exercises:

This is an important type of core training because it allows the individual to learn how to maintain a neutral spine position in overhead activities such as any overhead presses, or spinal loaded activities such as back squats. Maintaining a neutral spine during these activities is important for spinal safety because without proper core bracing, spinal injuries are more likely to occur.

Implementing these exercises helps the athlete to learn how to “set the spine” before initiating any movement and helps them learn how to translate core bracing into many dynamic movements in sport.

Dead Bug, Banded Dead Bug, Med ball Dead Bug

The Dead Bug is a great anti-extension core exercise because it forces the core to stay locked in place while the arms and legs move. The goal is to not allow for the small of the back to leave the floor while the arm and the leg extend.

You can progress the Dead Bug from a bent leg at 90-degrees to a straight leg Dead Bug. Med ball or band resisted Dead bug can also create a good resistance and challenge.

Plank/Side Plank-The most simple and effective core stability exercise. The plank can teach an individual how to control and brace their own body weight.

TRX Rollout– This is a great alternative to barbell rollouts that can be easily manipulated to make it easier or more difficult.

Tall Kneeling Band Extension- Great anti-extension variation for all athletes. This also forces an athlete to brace their core while pressing the band overhead.

Anti-Rotation Core Exercises:

Anti-rotation core exercises serve a great purpose in all athletes. Not only does it force the athlete to brace their core, but the lateral resistance forces the core to fire and resist against rotation.

Med ball seated side toss- This core exercise is explosive but also forces the athlete to brace their core against rotation when the med ball comes back off the wall. The goal is to keep the feet up and resist rotation as the ball comes back to opposite pocket area.

Paloff Press– This variation can be done in a tall kneeling or standing position. The individual will set the knees and hips in an athletic stance and press the band away until the arms are straight. The goal is to resist the rotation that the pulling band creates.

Cross Press- This can be done with a resistance band or cable machine, and in a tall kneeling or split stance position. The goal is to resist the rotation of the band during the press and stabilize the core against rotation.

1 Arm KB Anti-Rotation March– A more dynamic core stabilization- the goal is to resist against the one sided kettlebell while marching.

1 Arm KB Back Extension– This is a great 2-for-1 variation. While squeezing the glutes to keep the back at a parallel position, the individual must resist the rotation of the kettlebell by keeping the scapula retracted and the core locked in.

Use these exercises to help build spinal stability in your athletes.  You don’t have to use them all in every workout.  Insert one or two into your program, and start to build routines that address stabilization in multiple directions.

Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University, and is currently a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist is the only certification created specifically for coaches training high school athletes.  The course includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from some of the top strength and conditioning coaches in America.  Click on the image below to learn more about how to become a certified high school strength & conditioning coach.

Physio Ball Exercises: Training Options – Joe Powell

Physio Ball Exercises – The physio ball is an extremely versatile piece of equipment that is used for a multitude of purposes across a broad range of professional fields. It is commonly referred to by a host of different names which is fitting given its wide range of usage. You may know the physio ball as an exercise ball, swiss ball, balance ball, or therapy ball, among many other names depending on its intended use. Within the strength and conditioning field alone, physio ball exercises can be used for a wide range of purposes. The versatility and practicality of a physio ball, paired with its relative affordability for large quantities, makes it a staple in many weight rooms.

Purpose and Practical Uses:
For S&C practitioners, physio ball exercises are most commonly used for improving stability, balance, coordination and even strength training. Due to the fact that it is a ball, and thus an extremely unstable surface, it is not an ideal piece of equipment for improving general strength and power for an athlete. However, the physio ball can still be used for strength training by focusing on the core and its associated muscles, as well as improving posterior chain and inner thigh strength.

Athletes undergoing rehab assignments often benefit from using a physio ball, as the unstable surface helps activate deep or weakened musculature from injury or infrequent use.  It is also used as a prehab or injury prevention tool when placed into a training program. The physio ball relies on the athlete to activate specific musculature used for balance and stabilization and therefore, can be used for pre-activity activation as well. Common musculature that can be activated via stabilization are the transverse abdominis, multifidi group and the hip rotators.

General Physio Ball Exercises to Perform:
Core exercises: rollouts, circles, alphabet, numbers, knee tucks, pike-ups, V-ups, back extensions, oblique crunches, oblique iso-holds, P-Ball exchanges (hands to feet) and prone marches








Lower-body Physio Ball Exercises: Groin squeezes, rear foot elevated squat, single-leg groin push away, straight-leg bridge, bent-leg bridge and hamstring curls






Upper-body Physio Ball Exercises: Upper back work (I,Y,Ts) (thumbs up raise for mid trap, pinkies up raise for rhomboids), partner movement stabilization high plank, and wall slide shoulder activation



Modifications for usage:
The physio ball may be used in conjunction with other equipment (i.e. dumbbells), however, just because it is possible does not necessarily mean it is always appropriate. Whenever using another piece of equipment with the physio ball, be very cautious of problems that may occur because of its unstable surface. The physio ball is not recommended for use to gain absolute strength or power, however, it can be used as a means to sub-maximally resistance train.

A great modification for usage is to teach certain exercises such as a squat. When the physio ball is against the wall it allows for a beginner, or someone who needs no added resistance, to achieve appropriate depth while still being supported by the ball.

Programming Purposes:

As previously mentioned, the physio ball is not the ideal tool to build absolute strength and power for athletes, so basing your entire program around it is not recommended if those are your goals. However, physio ball exercises can serve a great purpose and are an excellent supplement to most workout programs.  Based on their low cost, a physio ball is also a great way to add programming options on a limited budget.  They also give coaches the opportunity to develop young athletes without traditional weights.

The most practical usage of the physio ball will typically be late in the workout after any explosive lifts or multi-joint strength/power exercises are completed. Physio ball exercises are typically reserved for accessory work, placed within super-sets or monster-sets, and are great for any type of circuit training. The majority of the exercises utilizing the ball will be bodyweight, and experienced athletes can do higher-rep schemes to reach volitional failure.  Depending upon training age and caliber of athlete, the physio ball may be purposefully used earlier in a workout to fulfill needs that benefit proprioceptive qualities.

As with any piece of equipment, the sky is the limit in terms of usage. Be creative and imaginative with its use, but always make sure to have a valid reason behind anything you do with an athlete.

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach at Utah State University.  He formerly held a similar position at Central Michigan University where he also taught classes in the Department of Health and Human Performance.  Joe is a regular contributor to the IYCA Insiders program and has been a huge part of bringing the Behind the Science series to the IYCA.  He is also the author of the IYCA Guide to Manual Resistance Strength Training.  Get more of Joe’s contributions in the IYCA Insiders membership.

Athlete Development Model – Jim Kielbaso

Athlete Development ModelLong term athlete development has been discussed for years, but the concept is still incredibly confusing for practitioners.  Part of the reason for this confusion is that the models are missing details and coordination of efforts between coaches, trainers and parents.

At the 2018 IYCA Summit, Jim Kielbaso offered a new way of thinking about athlete development and offered a solution for how we move forward.  He spoke about where we’ve been, what has been done and outlined a model that will add to the already existing LTAD models.

While most of the theoretical models have great thoughts and rationale behind them, we still find that professionals hide inside their own “silos” without coordinating their efforts with the other important parties involved.  If a S & C Coach can’t coordinate with the sport coach, the athlete is ultimately going to suffer and results will not be optimal.

Youth sports has become a business that is often more about the adults involved than the kids.  Because of this, early specialization gets shoved down everyone’s throats, and complete athlete development is ignored.  Numerous articles, books and videos have been produced describing the problems associated with the current sports industry.  But, instead of making changes, we seem to be stuck in a rut of complaining.

We also know that most athletes don’t start a formal performance training program until they have already shown some athletic promise or strong interest in improving.  Instead of waiting, what can we do as a profession to help enhance the opportunities and experiences of all young athletes?

We may not love the systems that are in place, but we need to be pro-active and work towards changing youth sports systems from the inside instead of complaining that things “aren’t the way they should be.”

The video above is meant to get coaches to think about how we can begin working together to create exceptional experiences for athletes and help them reach their true potential.  Most coaches have great intentions but get stuck in their own silo because there is so much to be done in their area of expertise.  It’s time to make a change.  Watch the video and leave your comments below on how we can make this happen.

 

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model doesn’t explain what to actually do at each stage of development.  Learn the truth about long term athlete development and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to long term athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

Also visit http://LongTermAthleteDevelopment.com for more information on Long Term Athlete Development.

Bodyweight Training Progressions – Jordan Tingman

bodyweight training exercises - plyo push upsAsk any strength coach, and they will tell you that most athletes lack strength, control and mobility in many basic bodyweight training exercises. Utilizing bodyweight training, “can result in both physical strength and stamina” (Harrison, 2010).  This is why bodyweight training progressions are such an important part of any strength training program.

We often think that bodyweight training is very simple, so we don’t spend much time thinking about it.  We want to rush into more advanced training methods because they seem more exciting.  Unfortunately, when we skip over fundamentals, it catches up to us down the road.  Spending time teaching and perfecting bodyweight training exercises has the potential to pay big dividends as athletes mature, so this should be an integral part of any youth training program.

When it comes to younger or female athletes, upper body exercises such as the pull up or push up tend to be difficult. With the squat, maintaining proper posture is difficult for many athletes due to a wide variety of mobility or kinesthetic awareness issues.

Instead of being taken through a proper progression, we often see athletes struggle through sloppy reps or force themselves into positions they can’t maintain.  Fortunately, there are ways to modify these exercises that allow athletes to perform them correctly while utilizing the correct muscles.

This article will highlight three of the basic bodyweight training exercises that are often performed incorrectly, and it will describe simple progressions to ensure long-term success.

Push-up:

A few of the most common flaws seen during the push up are lack of upper body strength, elbows flared out, improper hand positioning and lack of core strength to maintain stability and posture throughout the movement.

Here is an example of a proper bodyweight push up:

  • Plank position in the core is maintained throughout the entirety of the exercise.
  • Elbows are at a 45 degree or closer angle from the body, emphasizing proper use of upper body musculature, and not overstressing the shoulder joint.
  • Hands placed just under and outside the arm-pit, not even with the head like is commonly seen.
  • Body is lowered in a controlled manner until the elbow joint is below a 90 degree angle.

If an individual lacks upper body strength, the push up can be modified by elevating the surface in which the hands are placed.

This surface can be anything that is elevated and allows the individual to maintain proper core stability throughout the movement.  This could be a box, bench, or bar on a squat rack.  As strength is developed, slowly lower the angle in which the push up is done until the athlete can perform a standard push up.

If an individual lacks a lot of core stability, a banded hip-supported push up can be used.  Attach a band around the safety catches and position the athlete so it’s under the hips during the push up. This alleviates the weight of the hips and aids in maintaining the plank posture throughout the movement. This can be progressed by using smaller bands until the individual can maintain hip posture throughout the entire movement.

If an athlete can maintain core position and effectively use the upper body muscles, but simply isn’t strong enough to perform many reps, an eccentric or isometric component can help.

Have the individual perform a 3-5 second eccentric and hold in the bottom position for one second before pushing up.  This builds strength and control in all positions of the movement.  If the athlete cannot perform the concentric portion of a push up at all, performing eccentrics can build that strength.  Athletes can perform 4-8 negatives, simply lowering slowly, then “rolling” back up to the top position for the next rep.  

As a coach, you can vary the amount of time of the eccentric or isometric portion, and vary the reps depending on the capabilities of the athlete.

Pull-up:

One of the hardest, but effective bodyweight training exercises is the pull-up.  Due to a lack of upper body strength, many athletes cannot perform even a single pull-up. Those who can perform a pull up tend to do it incorrectly. The most common issues include:

  • Lack of scapular retraction
  • Inability to start each rep with full arm extension 
  • Inability to get the chin above the bar with each rep

Placing a band around the J-hooks of a squat rack will give assistance to the most difficult position of the movement. Ensure that when the individual lowers their body, they still extend their arms into the bottom position.

To strengthen different positions of the pull-up, add an isometric component at the top or middle of the exercise. This reinforces proper positioning and strength in a variety of the positions of the pull up.  Emphasizing the eccentric component throughout the full range of motion is also very helpful when building strength in the movement.

As mentioned in the section about push-ups, you can manipulate the eccentric or isometric times and the number of reps to make the exercise more or less difficult.  This will be dependent on the capabilities and strengths of the athlete.  For example, an isometric hold at the top plus a 5 second negative is a great way to develop strength in young or large athletes who struggle with pull-ups.  

Squat:

One of most popular bodyweight training exercises is the squat, but it is also the one most commonly rushed through.  The most common mistake we see here is adding a load before the athlete can even maintain correct posture in an air squat or goblet squat.

We look ask these four questions when coaching the bodyweight squat:

  • Are they maintaining an upright posture throughout the entire movement?
  • Are their heels staying in contact with the ground throughout the movement?
  • Are they properly hinging at the hip before descending into a squat position?
  • Are they able to maintain an upright posture until the parallel position of a squat?

You should be able to answer “yes” to all of these questions before loading an athlete with a barbell.

A good initial assessment is to see whether the athlete can properly execute an air squat.

In this video, the arms are out to assist in maintaining an upright posture throughout the air squat.

Feet are slightly outside of shoulder width with toes slightly pointed out. This position can vary from individual to individual depending on what their bodily mechanics look like. If their heels are coming off of the floor, their foot position may be the first thing you need to manipulate.

If an individual has trouble maintaining an upright posture to the parallel position, a good way to work on this is to have them air squat to a target.


In this video, the individual is squatting to a box slightly below the parallel position.  This reinforces the hip hinging aspect of the squat and allows the coach to cue the athlete to maintain an upright posture until the box is touched.  You can also hold the bottom position (without putting any pressure on the box) to reinforce this position and strengthen the lower back.  

You can load this movement by adding a goblet hold while the individual squats to a box. Ensure the individual does not relax the core or rock back onto the box to gain momentum before standing up.  Again, an isometric hold at the bottom can help athletes feel correct posture.  

Squatting to a box may also allow the coach to assess issues in the squatting pattern.

Then once they can maintain an upright position to a box- you can take the box away and allow them to perform a Kettlebell Goblet Squat:


If the athlete shows instability while performing this movement, add a tempo to the eccentric portion and/or an isometric hold at the bottom.  This will reinforce correct body positioning throughout the squat.


While there are many different modalities that you can use as a coach, bodyweight training is an excellent way to lay a solid foundation.  In order to slowly progress athletes in these movements, the bodyweight training progressions above can help ensure long-term progress and success.  You can also use these exercises as a part of a complete strength training program that will continually reinforce the foundation you have developed.  

Citations:

https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/Fulltext/2010/04000/Bodyweight_Training__A_Return_To_Basics.5.aspx

Jordan Tingman – CSCS*, USAW L1, ACE CPT, CFL1 is a graduate of Washington State University with a B.S. in Sports Science with a Minor in Strength and Conditioning. She completed internships with the strength & conditioning programs at both Washington State University and Ohio State University.  She is now working as a Graduate Assistant S & C Coach at Eastern Washington University.

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification is the only course available that directly addresses the needs of the high school athlete.  Learn more about the HSSCS HERE:

Rethinking Long Term Athlete Development – Jim Kielbaso

The concept of long term athlete development (LTAD) has been around for several years, but it has more recently become a hot topic amongst youth sports and training organizations.  It seems that everyone now needs a formula for how to develop great athletes so they can represent their countries and succeed as professionals.  Several academicians have taken the lead on reviewing the relevant literature and have written articles and books about the topic.  They have used this literature to create several different models for developing athletes.  While these models were a great start, their oversimplification of athlete development seems to be steering coaches, trainers and parents in the wrong direction.    

To begin, the entire premise of LTAD theory needs to be examined.  When it originated in the late 1990’s, academician Istvan Balyi identified some very important issues in many countries and sporting organizations, so he created a 3-stage model that emphasized long term athlete development over winning competitions.  This premise challenged the approach of many coaches and got a lot of people to open their eyes to the problems in youth sports.   

Balyi’s original model included three phases – Training to Train, Training to Compete and Training to Win.  A few years later, he realized that a fourth stage – FUNdamentals – should be added to address the fundamental motor skills that should be developed early in a child’s life.  

Sporting organizations latched on to this theory and quickly started talking about it as a formula that would create great athletes.  As these theories picked up steam, other academicians decided to jump on the train and create their own models.  They included talent identification, more in-depth discussion on early childhood, and there was a strong emphasis on taking advantage of hypothetical “windows” of opportunity where different training methods would supposedly have a greater impact. The models told coaches when to emphasize strength training, speed training, endurance training and when to emphasize competition vs. training.  

Eventually, some groups realized that an LTAD approach may also give children great sporting experiences that would lead to lifelong enjoyment of physical activity.  Because of the childhood obesity and physical illiteracy epidemics, this idea seemed very attractive.  

A few organizations came out with their own versions of LTAD that included 7-9 stages of development, and they felt good about adopting this approach because they believed it was the “right thing to do for kids,” even though it was nothing more than words on paper for most groups.  These organizations would hire an expert to put together a model, but they didn’t seem to put much effort into the actual implementation.  Education and coordination of efforts were left out of the models.

Eventually, the stages looked like this:

  • Stage 1 – Active Start (0-6 years old)
  • Stage 2 – FUNdamentals (girls 6-8, boys 6-9)
  • Stage 3 – Learn to Train (girls 8-11, boys 9-12)
  • Stage 4 – Train to Train (girls 11-15, boys 12-16) 
  • Stage 5 – Train to Compete (girls 15-21, boys 16-23)
  • Stage 6 – Train to Win (girls 18+, boys 19+)
  • Stage 7 – Active for Life (any age)

More in-depth models described when each training method would elicit the best results.  USA Hockey did a much better job with their American Developmental Model that looked like this:

Still, a lot was left out, especially any details on implementation.  For the most part, LTAD has remained theoretical, and implementation has largely been missing.  

To be clear, the models aren’t necessarily “wrong” as much as they are incomplete and misleading.  Most of them give the reader the impression that they have been thoroughly tested and proven, and that they contain a formula for success.  This may not have been their original intent, but that’s how it has been taking by the sporting world.

The strength & conditioning/sports performance profession has taken notice more than just about any group because a lot of these models talk about “training” and “movement.”  The term “athlete development” resonates with these professionals, so this is where many of the thoughts have become popularized.  

These professionals have tried to implement these already-flawed, theoretical models by attempting to use different training methods at certain times to take advantage of the “windows of opportunity” outlined by academicians without coordinating their efforts with other important players in this process.  This is one of the biggest mistakes made today, and the lack of integration with other groups has stymied progress and severely limited outcomes.  

While the theory of long term athlete development is well-intentioned, the models have yet to produce exceptional athletes in real life.  In fact, even the researchers admit that there was no real data to support any of the models.  In a great review of some of the relevant literature, Guy Razi and Kieran Foy showed that the data does not support these models.  It was all a great idea, but these models were nothing more than theoretical. To this day, no athlete has gone through the entire model the way it was originally laid out, and achieved a high level of success.

The models are also not very realistic in many situations.  For example, the models include a lot of talk about peak height velocity (PHV) as the optimal time for the adaptation of certain traits.  What is not addressed is how coaches are supposed to know when an athlete is experiencing PHV.  In most sporting situations, kids’ height is not constantly monitored by coaches, and most of the training decisions described in the literature are related more to strength & conditioning than sports skills.  Sports coaches might have contact with kids year-round, but most kids are not engaged in year-round strength & conditioning at an early age (this can be because of money, availability, beliefs, time restrictions, etc.).  So, how would the strength coach know when PHV is occurring?  It may not even matter since most performance coaches only see young athletes in limited spurts.  Typically, parents come to a performance coach after PHV when they recognize altered movement.  

If every child was in a “sporting academy” situation from a young age where they were constantly coached, trained and monitored, this may be possible, but it’s not realistic in most cases.  An argument could be made that we should move toward these type of year-round academies so that everything can be monitored, but that’s beyond the scope of this article and it carries as many negatives as positives.  

The most popular LTAD models propose “windows of opportunity” in which certain athletic traits may respond better to specific kinds of training.  For example, it has been theorized that speed is best trained just before PHV, and that strength is best trained directly after PHV.  These models lead many coaches to believe that worthwhile adaptation only occurs during these periods, and that is absolutely not true.  Young athletes are always open to adaptation and can always enjoy the benefits of proper training no matter where they are in their maturation.  

Every physical attribute can be trained at any time.  Most practitioners just need to understand how to best address each attribute during maturation to achieve the best long-term and sustainable outcomes.  

So, “missing” a window of opportunity does not mean progress in certain traits cannot be made.  On the contrary, long term athlete development is much more individualized than these contrived models suggest.  

Even more concerning is the fact that long-term implementation has not been thoroughly studied, which is ironic given the name of the theory and the fact that academicians created it.  It is typically written/spoken about by people who do not coach athletes, have not successfully developed great athletes, and many don’t even have children of their own in which they’ve tested their theories or developed athletes into champions.  

There are far too many factors involved in creating a great athlete to boil the process down to a few simple steps, and several key ingredients have been missing from the recipe.  Developing athletes is highly individualized, and included many factors beyond those that are described in the current literature.  These missing factors include:

  • The child’s interest/passion for sport
  • The psychological approach used with each athlete
  • Parental support and their role in the process
  • Environmental/societal influences
  • Access to the coaching/training at the right time
  • Genetic factors & talent identification
  • Coordination of development with all parties (parents, coaches, trainers, etc.)
  • Having the “right coach at the right time” or at least the right approach at the right time

Some of these factors cannot be easily controlled by coaches, rendering them “too messy” for academics to even attempt to address.  Yet, these factors will determine the long-term outcome to a much greater extent than any theoretical model of when to train each physical component.  

Kids are not robots, and developing athletes is not a science experiment.  long term athlete development

We don’t need models – we need coaches….great coaches.

If we’re truly interested in developing great athletes and/or adults who enjoy physical activity, we cannot do it alone as strength & conditioning professionals.  We must look at the entire picture, address physical, psychological/emotional and social aspects and include everyone involved in the development of the athlete – coaches, trainers and parents.

Much has already been addressed regarding the physical training of young athletes.  The materials available through the IYCA and others are exceptional and give in-depth information on strength development, speed & agility training, flexibility/mobility, conditioning and even skill development.  Rather than summarizing these methods, let’s explore the missing factors listed above and how each may be addressed.

Before we do that, two things need to be made clear:

  1. The term “youth” refers to anyone 18 and under.  When people are first introduced to the International Youth Conditioning Association, they often assume we are focused on very young children.  The process of athlete development begins at a very young age and continues until at least 18 years old, so it’s important for us to understand how to properly address each stage of maturation. Of course, athletes continue to develop past 18, but the process changes dramatically at that time.  
  2. Great training and coaching are absolutely essential to the process of athletic development.  This should be obvious, but it needs to be stated since it will not be addressed here. Training and coaching are addressed in many other IYCA materials and this is well beyond the scope of this article.  Athletes need physical development, so speed, strength, sports skills, etc. are critically important.  These topics are what most LTAD models focus on exclusively, and they should not be ignored.  

Now, let’s examine the aspects of long term athletic development that are NOT included in most models, but must be understood if we are truly interested in overall development:

Passion

Enjoyment of sport is one of the most important underlying factors in long-term athletic success.  If a young athlete does not find joy in a sport, the likelihood of him/her giving the long-term effort to excel is very small.  He/she may go through the motions and experience some level of success, but it is very difficult for a young person to stay motivated to excel in a sport if passion is not part of the equation.  

Without passion, the entire LTAD model comes to a grinding halt, so this cannot be ignored.

At some point, a child has to be willing to pursue a dream for themselves, not simply because he/she is talented or others want the success.  In most cases, there needs to be a burning desire within a person if high levels of success are going to be achieved.  Even more importantly, that passion needs to be fueled in order to sustain it long enough to achieve any real success.  Playing for the wrong coach, not getting enough playing time, having poor teammates, lack of parental support and year-round play are some the reasons the flame burns out for many athletes. If the sport is no longer fun for a young athlete, it’s almost impossible to expect continued progress.  

In his book The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle refers to a concept he calls “Ignition.”  Essentially, this is what creates a deep passion for sport in an athlete.  It might be exposure to a particular person, participation in an event, watching a sport, family involvement or something else.  It will be different for every person, which is why this isn’t a formula.  But, that ignition needs to exist if long-term success is the goal.

Parents, family and friends typically play the largest role in establishing a love for sport.  Exposure to sports (live or on TV) and attitudes toward sports often start in early childhood.  They can establish emotional feelings before they ever participate in a sport.  There’s no right way for parents to approach sports with their children, but positive exposure to a variety of sports seems to be optimal.  

As stated earlier, children are not robots, so there is no single formula for producing passion about a particular sport.   Intense parental feelings about sports have the potential to influence children in both positive and negative ways.  Some parents actually push kids away from sport because they are so passionate about it, while others create a healthy feeling of excitement.

Coaches and trainers often don’t even meet an athlete until some amount of exposure to a sport has been made, so feelings have often been established to some degree before a child’s first practice.  Youth coaches, however, play an enormous role in whether or not that passion continues.  

A child’s early exposure to sports and coaching often influences their desire to continue participating.  Early coaching needs to be both positive and effective.  Coaches need to balance making practices/games fun and improving athletically so the child develops feelings of self-efficacy associated with the sport.  Few things are more motivating to children that the feeling of proficiency – when a child thinks he/she is good at a sport, they enjoy it more.  

This can be a very delicate balancing act, and factors like stature, enjoyment and fundamental movement skills (FMS) play large roles in developing feelings of proficiency.  Typically, athletes who have good FMS’s excel early on, and have greater early enjoyment of sports.  Parents can greatly assist this process by working on FMS early in a child’s life and providing positive exposure to sport.  

Coaches can recognize the importance of establishing passion by making sports enjoyable and productive.  Possibly the most important goal of a youth sports coach should be to make each season so positive that the kids want to play another season.  This keeps them in the “system” and allows them to progress.  

Coaching

Having great coaches should be the first thing mentioned in any long term athlete development model.  Unfortunately, it is not. Great coaches trump theoretical models every time and should be discussed before anything else in this process.  

The approach used with each child may have more to do with long-term athletic success than any physical training method.  Yes, the right training methods will elicit positive physiological responses, but the wrong coaching approach can make the athlete lose interest, confidence, and enjoyment of the sport.  

Getting this wrong will render LTAD models useless, so having the right coach at the right time is essential to the process of athlete development.  The right coach will be different at each stage of maturation and for each athlete, so there is no single solution.

The right approach, however, has the potential to increase self-efficacy and passion, and can establish positive traits such as work ethic, perseverance, coachability, and a healthy outlook toward sports.  These positive traits and feelings may be the keys to sticking with a sport through tough training and the ups & downs associated with sports later in their development.  

Great coaching should be used by both sport coaches and strength & conditioning professionals (SCP) alike.  A SCP has the ability to balance out a poor coach and vice versa. Optimally, all coaches will be positive influences and contribute to the success of an athlete by teaching skills and making the process enjoyable enough to keep the passion burning.  

The importance of having the “right coach at the right time” cannot be overstated in the development of an athlete.  The right coach at 8 years old probably won’t be the right coach at 18, and the right coach for one athlete may not be the right coach for all athletes.  

Typically, young athletes and parents don’t even know which coach is the right fit or if that person is even available.  More often, we realize the negative experience when it’s too late and the damage has been done.  For example, a young soccer player can be on a terrific path of development from age 8 to 14 until a poor coach absolutely ruins soccer for her.  This can occur when athletes change clubs, move to a different age group, or have a coach who is simply a bad fit. This has the potential to make athletes lose passion/interest, decrease confidence or quit the sport altogether.  Anyone who has been involved in sports for any length of time has seen this over and over again.

Coaches who value winning above development too early in an athlete’s career can stifle the developmental process and get athletes to focus on things that limit long-term success.  These coaches often play favorites with young athletes and push certain athletes to excel (often their own child) while relegating others to less-important roles on the team.  While this may work for some athletes, it can also have a negative effect on overall development.  The “favorite” child may have false confidence in their early success and he/she may not learn how to work hard for that success.  Other children may feel decreased confidence and end up quitting because the sport just isn’t fun anymore.  

Unfortunately, high-quality coaches often feel compelled to work with older, more developed athletes because that’s what society deems as “better.”  To be sure, some coaches are simply better-suited to work with older athletes, but a great youth coach has the potential to be one of the most influential figures in a child’s life.  A year, early in life, with a bad coach could have easily derailed the careers of great athletes like Wayne Gretzky, Magic Johnson or Lionel Messi.  

If we’re truly looking to develop great athletes through a long-term process, we must encourage great coaches to spend time with young athletes.  This means that quality coaches may need to volunteer their time to work with young athletes, knowing that the payoff may not occur for many years.  

It also means that SCP’s need to be aware of how each child is being coached and approach them with what they need.  A child who has a negative sport coach may need a more positive approach from the SCP. Conversely, a talented child who has been coddled his whole life may need a hard-nosed influence to push him to be great.  

Social/Environmental

It is impossible to ignore the fact that a child’s surroundings influence his/her sporting experiences, but this is also ignored by every LTAD model available.  Spending time with friends is very important to most children.  Sometimes, kids may be better off playing a sport with their friends than on a travel team comprised of kids who don’t know each other.

Geographic location will also influence long term athlete development.  For example, a young child with a passion for lacrosse, but who lives in an

Members Of Female High School Soccer Team

area with limited coaching/competition, will probably not have the opportunity to reach his potential like he would if he grew up in Maryland.  A young gymnast may be identified as a potentially great diver in middle/high school.  If she doesn’t like the coach or the other athletes on the diving team, she may never even give it a chance, and a potential Olympian may never try a sport.  How many exceptional rugby players, fencers or team handball players have been born in America and were simply not exposed to these sports?

Access to quality experiences and identification of talent plays a huge role in the long-term success of an athlete.  

Strength coaches may not have much control over this, but it’s certainly something we need to consider if the goal is to develop great athletes and achieve long-term success.  Even if the goal is to create enjoyable experiences, the fact that opportunities are often limited should not be ignored.  

An experienced coach may be able to suggest sports and/or coaches to families when talent is identified.  While there is no guarantee that these suggestions will be acted upon, we should always think about what we can do rather than complain about a problem after the fact.  

Parental Support

Parents have more of an influence than anyone in the process of long-term athlete development, and both sports coaches and SCP’s may need to step in to help guide them when appropriate.  Some parents push too hard, while others expect too little. This is a delicate balancing act that must be considered as part of any long term plan.

Simply providing transportation to great coaching/training may be the difference needed to keep the flame burning in a young athlete.  Conversely, negative conversations after a game may poison the well and create negative emotions related to a sport.

Sports satisfaction surveys reveal that “having fun” is the main reason that most children like to participate in sports; however, the parents’ perception of why their children like to play sports is to “win.”

SCP’s and sport coaches can help create balance when support is not present.  By making practice/training an enjoyable, positive experience, a child’s “emotional bank account” can be built up.  Coaches may also need to have hard conversations with parents sometimes or at least talk to the athlete about how to communicate with the parent.  

Coordination

With all of these factors in mind, it appears as though long term athlete development is much more complex than just the training methods used at different points in the maturation process or how many games to play each year.  Of course, great training and sport coaching are necessary. That should be painfully obvious by now. But, besides great training and coaching, it also appears that many critical factors need to come together in a coordinated effort if we are truly looking for optimal development and great sporting experiences.

We have created “silos” that don’t have enough interaction with each other.  Parents, sports coaches, and strength & conditioning specialists each have their silos where they do their work independently.  This approach creates a lack of continuity for the young athlete. Sports coaches don’t know what kind of training is occurring outside of their practices.  SCP’s have no input on the number or duration of practices, and parents often don’t know what’s best for their child, so they simply drop them off with a coach and hope he/she is doing the right thing.  

Unfortunately, many adults seem to think that “their way” is the best approach, so there is little coordination between parents, coaches, and trainers.  

It also goes without saying that the entire youth sports system is broken and has become more about the adults than the kids.  Many books and articles have been written on this topic. Web sites have been created and Ted Talks were given. Even the US Olympic Committee is now supporting pediatric sports psychologists to help young athletes deal with the stresses of youth sports and to help parents and coaches deal with the challenges.

The problems are obvious, and rehashing them here seems pointless.  

We are not going to fix this problem by complaining about it or attempting to tear it down.  

In order to fix this broken system, a much more coordinated approach needs to be taken.  Someone must intervene and change the system from the inside.

Most parents simply don’t know how to handle this overall development, so guidance is needed.  Sport coaches usually have great knowledge of a sport, but lack knowledge in the area of complete athlete development.  Many strength coaches are aware of the needs, but don’t have enough influence over the process, aren’t involved until later in an athlete’s career or simply want to stand on the outside and complain about it.  

It is time for strength & conditioning professionals to step up and become coordinators of athletic development.  

The SCP is armed with the knowledge to coordinate long term athlete development.  It is up to this group to take a more active role in the education of parents and coaches.  We need highly-qualified professionals who can effectively communicate and coordinate the “silos” in an effort to create positive experiences.  

complete athlete development

The SCP can teach coaches and parents how each aspect of athleticism is linked, and plans can be put in place to create well-rounded athletes.  

This shift will require the SCP to get out of his/her comfort zone and think about athlete development as more than just lifting weights.  The SCP will need to work within the structure of youth sports by educating parents and coaches, and taking their own egos out of the equation.  We need to spend time teaching parents and coaches about fundamental motor skills, skill acquisition, strength and speed development, and all-around athletic development rather than specialization.  With overuse injuries ranging from 37% to 68% depending on the sport, we can help reverse this trend.

This education will not put us out of jobs.  On the contrary, educating coaches and parents about how to properly integrate strength & conditioning into a long term athlete development plan will secure our places in every organization.  More coaches and parents will understand the need for training which will increase the demand for our specialized services. More trust will be placed in our hands because we will be viewed as allies rather than adversaries.  

Without this coordination, the important people in this process will remain in their silos.  But, a collective approach will yield far better results for everyone involved.

As you can see, long term athlete development cannot be distilled down to contrived models.  The process is more complicated and many factors need to be addressed.

We have a great opportunity to influence a broken system from within, and make the changes that are needed for long term success.  We need great coaches and coordinators to help develop athletes. It’s time to stop complaining and take action.

Jim Kielbaso is the President of the IYCA and Director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, MI.  He is a former college strength & conditioning coach and the author of Ultimate Speed & Agility as well as dozens of articles published in various publications.  Jim is also the father of three boys and has helped coach all of them in different sports, so long term athlete development is very important to him.

The old “windows of opportunity” Long Term Athlete Development model is a thing of the past.  Learn the truth about LTAD and how to approach athletes at every level in the IYCA’s LTAD Roadmap.  This is the most comprehensive approach to athlete development available.  Click on the image below to learn more.

Practical is the New Functional – Jim Kielbaso

I love innovation.

I love new exercise variations. I love learning new methods. I love new technology. It’s fun for me to watch new trends come and go, and I enjoy trying to predict what’s coming.  People love throwing around the term “functional” and seem to use it as a blanket reason for anything in their program.

Over the past year, however, it’s been hammered home time and time again that, while function and creativity are great, practicality is one of the most important – and neglected – factors to consider in programming. This is especially true when working with groups, which I do a lot. You can design the greatest program in the world, but if it isn’t practical – if it can’t actually be implemented – it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

Here is an example. I’ve had a few young coaches contact me about looking at their programs for high school teams before they implement them. I’ll see stuff like this:

Power Clean 5 x 5

Front Squat 5 x 5

RDL 5 x 5

Bench Press 5 x 5

Barbell Row 5 x 5

Machine Front Neck 2 x 10

Machine Back Neck 2 x 10

At first, it looks like a nice, straightforward program, but things start to look a lot different when I find out there will be 40 athletes in the weight room with three racks, five barbells, and just one neck machine. There’s going to be a line out the door waiting for a barbell or the neck machine. It’s going to take two hours to finish a workout that should take less than 60 minutes. It’s not practical. It’s going to be a mess and the coach is going to look like a total amateur.

I also look at that workout and think about where the coaching energy is going to be placed. I would consider every one of these a “high coaching-demand” exercise. High school kids are going to struggle with several of them, so you’re going to be running around trying to correct poor form all day. You’ll have no time to help them understand how to progressively overload each movement or simply motivate the kids. It’s a recipe for disaster and will become a complete cluster based on the exercise choices. It’s a perfect example of a good program that’s simply not practical.

 

Here’s another example I’ve seen for a workout at a private training facility:

6 x 10 yards acceleration mechanics work

6 x 10 yards sled sprints

3 x 10 squat jumps

3 x 10 split squat jumps

Tabata set of something each day

Clean 3 x 5

Dumbbell Press 3 x 8

Chin ups 3 x 8

Single leg squat 3 x 8

RDL 3 x 8

Core work

Flexibility

When I first saw this, I thought it looked good.  I felt like the coach had a good plan….until I started asking questions.

It turns out that he runs 60-minute sessions, there are typically 6-8 athletes in a group and he only has one squat rack and one speed sled.

Uh oh.

Then I found out that he also does a 10-15 warm-up at the beginning of each session.  There’s just no way to get all of that done in one hour.  Something has to give.

When creating programs, it’s critical to think about how you’re actually going to get it all done.  You can’t fit everything you know into one hour (at least I hope not), so pick a few things and get your athletes great at them.

Early in my career, I always wanted to fit everything in and come up with new stuff to show off my creativity. I prided myself on being able to come up with a great workout no matter where I was. While I still think that’s important, I’m now drawn to fundamentals more than ever. I see so many young coaches trying to make their mark on this field by coming up with something new instead of mastering fundamentals. What I’ve learned is that, without mastering the fundamentals, there is no basis for innovation. It’s almost like saying “I’m not very good at the basics, so I’ll come up with something different so nobody will notice.”

I don’t need 50 variations for every movement. I need a couple and I need to understand the most important concept in strength training – systematic & progressive overload. Pick a movement, and get stronger with it.

The basics are not broken. They never were. We’ve just become so used to being entertained, that we’re constantly looking for something new. Our athletes aren’t bored. We are. And, who cares about us? We’re not the focus of the training – our clients are.

If you and your athletes aren’t exceptional at the fundamentals, take a step back and think about what you’re doing. You owe it to yourself, and your clients, to help them develop a sound foundation before moving on to new tricks.

In my world the most important program equation now looks like this:

Practical = Functional

Laterality in Sport – Overcoming Unilateral Dominance – Antonio Squillante

As young athletes develop, their bodies adapt in many interesting ways.   The nervous system, musculoskeletal system, and cardiovascular systems are in a constant state of adaptation as young athletes play, train and practice sports.  Most coaches look for structural changes that result in stronger, faster and more resilient athletes, but those changes are typically preceded by changes in the nervous system that aren’t recognized as easily.  While these neural changes may not be seen as easily, they often have a huge influence on the structural adaptations (i.e. strength, speed, size, power) coaches desire.  It’s important to understand that sport-specific structural adaptation can actually occur as a consequence of the pre-existing traits of an athlete’s motor behavior.   

There are aspects of an athlete’s general motor behavior that cannot be learned and cannot be changed; they permanently affect the ability to perform in sport.  Laterality – “functional laterality,” as it has been more recently described – represents one of these motor behavioral traits, as it defines the “preferential use and superior functioning of either the left or right side of the body” (Pavlicikova, 2012); it represents the last stage of a progressive, physiological establishment of left and/or right dominance in the early stage of growth and maturation that significantly influence both structural and functional adaptation in sport.  

Left and right dominance, once permanently established, define laterality: a long-lasting, permanent establishment of specific motor patterns achieved through the preferential use of one limb over the other.  Thus, laterality is more than just handedness; it includes all of the body control, movements and coordination associated with a dominant side of the body.  While evidence in the literature has shown that laterality does not need to be addressed as a problem, asymmetry (often created through the process of establishing laterality) represents a biomechanical impairment that needs to be corrected.

Laterality, a concept often confused with dominance and asymmetry, represents one of the many traits of an athlete’s motor behavior. According to the theory known as “sport specific kinetic adaptation” (Fousekis, Tsepis and Vagensa, 2010), laterality can promote the development of muscular asymmetry ultimately affecting long-term athletic development.  For example, a deficit between the dominant and non-dominant limbs is considered as one of the major risk factors in the overall incidence of non-contact injuries.  Besides injuries, asymmetry significantly affects the ability to perform sport specific skills involving both closed and open kinetic chain movements (CKC/OKC), potentially affecting performance.

Adapted from: Yoshioka, S., Nagano, A., Hay, D. C., & Fukashiro, S. (2011). The effect of bilateral asymmetry of muscle strength on the height of a squat jump: a computer simulation study. Journal of sports sciences29(8), 867-877.

The severity of the imbalance depends on many factors including pre-existing structural asymmetries, years of sport-specific training, and a series of kinematic variants related to the tasks involved in practice and competition. Bilateral asymmetry is the outcome of a functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb, a discrepancy between left and right side of the body as they both contribute to the execution of closed kinetic chain (CKC) movements.

This is not simply handedness nor footedness; it does not result from the establishment of right and left dominance in open kinetic chain (OKC) movements such as throwing or kicking a ball. Bilateral asymmetry emerges as a consequence of laterality as laterality affects both the acquisition and practice of new skills.

Laterality, therefore, affects symmetry, and this asymmetry can create a functional deficit that may ultimately affect performance.

A functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb is more than a deficit in muscular strength; it can be a multi-factorial impairment involving both central and peripheral components. Two different approaches have been developed to correct such a deficit: bilateral transfer of training and unilateral training. Bilateral transfer of training relies on strength training exercises performed with the dominant limb in an effort to facilitate the development of the non-dominant limb via transfer of training.  Unilateral training, on the other hand, is the exact opposite approach of performing single leg/arm strength training exercises to support the development of the non-dominant side of the body. 

Bilateral transfer of training has been shown to address the neurological factors involved in coordinating sport-specific motor patterns performed with both dominant and non-dominant limb.  A functional deficit between the left and right side of the body does not entirely depend on the neurological difference between opposite cerebral hemispheres as much as it depends on their reciprocal interaction. According to the theory known as “motor control explanation in bilateral transfer of training”, skill performed with the dominant limb seems to positively affect the neurological mechanism responsible for improving motor control in the contralateral limb, overall decreasing the functional gap between right and left sides of the body. 

Sport-specific exercises performed with the preferential use of the dominant limb have been shown to positively transfer to the contralateral extremity: however, the opposite mechanism – non-dominant to dominant transfer – has shown to be less effective.

Examples are sport specific exercises involving acceleration, deceleration and change of direction drills (agility drills) performed in both an open and/or closed skill situation, linear and rotational throws and a wide variety of technical drills involving eye-hand and eye-foot coordination activities where the dominant limb is used according to the physiological preference of the athlete. 

Unilateral training, on the other hand, has been shown to address the neurological factors involved in coordinating gross motor patterns, as they reflect the overall ability to perform movements in sport. The term “force control mechanisms” is used to describe a set of gross motor skills such as force production, force absorption, rate of force development (RFD), intramuscular and intermuscular coordination, co-contraction and inhibition, as they reflect the activity of the cerebellum adjusting to the surrounding environment.

Gross motor skills that significantly affect the ability to perform sport-specific tasks (force control mechanisms) have been shown to pertain to the preferential limb only, with no transfer between right and left limb regardless of dominance and functional preferences. Examples are: special strength training exercises characterized by fast, powerful movements involving both upper and lower extremities. Hops, leaps, jumps and throws performed accelerating (concentric contraction) and decelerating (eccentric contraction) with both dominant and dominant leg, but also unilateral weight training exercises involving both upper and lower body.

General strength training exercises are still considered an essential component of any corrective protocol aimed to narrow the functional deficit between dominant and non-dominant limb. Structural components of muscular asymmetry can only be addressed if the muscular system is equally developed, regardless of dominance. Different attributes of the neuromuscular system – maximum strength, power, reactive strength, eccentric strength and isometric strength – but also local endurance, range of motion and general coordination in the non-dominant limb need to be specifically address in order to compensate for the lack of training due to the preferential use of the dominant limb.

Adapted from: Gambetta, V. (2006). Athletic Development. The Art & Science of Functional Sports Conditioning. Humana Kinetics, Champlain, IL.

Bilateral asymmetry is expected and tolerated in sports where laterality is a characteristic trait of the tasks being performed. Strength, speed, endurance but also range of motion and coordination between dominant and non-dominant limb need to be equally developed in order to narrow the functional deficit that occurs as a consequence of laterality. Examples are: maximal effort (both eccentric and concentric), dynamic effort and repetitive effort performed with the preferential use of the non-dominant limb but also, isometric exercises, mobility and flexibility drills that target specific joints and muscle within the weaker muscle chain.

It needs to be considered, however, how sports are, for the most part, asymmetrical in nature. Bilateral asymmetry, to a certain extent, is therefore tolerated as long as the functional gap between dominant and non-dominant limb is lower than 7-12%. Functional performance test (FPT) – tests that are designed to bridge the gap between general physical tests and full, unrestricted athletic activity (Manske, and Reiman, 2013) – can help detect imbalances and quantifying their nature providing invaluable information to develop corrective programs based on the athlete’s specific needs.  Any deficit in excess of 15% – a level of symmetry lower than 85% – has been shown to significantly increase the risk on non-contact injuries in sport, potentially affecting performance.

We can help young athletes correct asymmetries and develop into well-rounded, balanced athletes.  Giving young athletes unilateral activities with both arms/legs will help to ward off issues down the road.

Antonio Squillante is the Director of Sports Performance at Velocity Sports Performance in Los Angeles, California. He is in charge of the youth development program which includes over 100 athletes 17 years old and under competing in many different sports. Antonio graduated summa cum laude from the University San Raffaele – Rome, Italy – with a Doctorate Degree in Exercise Science.  He has worked in college and professional athletics, has written numerous articles and holds certifications from multiple organizations.

 

The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

 

Power Clean Progression

Power Clean Progression:  Part 3 of 3 in a series of exercise progressions by Tobias Jacobi

In the previous installments of this article series we talked about the importance of progressions and the progressions we utilize with our middle school and high school athletes in the Front Squat and Pause Bench Press.  These can be found at http://iyca.org/front-squat-progression & http://iyca.org/bench-press-progression.  

In this installment we will be discussing our Power Clean Progression.  We will also give you the progression plan we implement with our athlete’s and recommendations for both middle school and high school athletes.  In the last portion of this article we will discuss some issues that may occur when prescribing this exercise and our rationale for using this particular exercise in our program.  

The power clean is one of the most beneficial, and controversial, lifts that a coach can prescribe within their program.  Technical efficiency isPower Clean Progression imperative for the proper execution and continued progress with the power clean, which is the primary reason we utilize the lifting progression we implement.  When learning the power clean, never sacrifice technique for more weight; this is a recipe for disaster and will eventually lead to injury.  Our 7th grade program will typically use 3 weeks for each movement, while the 8th grade program uses 2-week intervals, and our high school program uses 1-week intervals for each progression.

When discussing how to teach the power clean, coaches usually choose either a Top-Down or Bottom-Up teaching progression;  I have found the Bottom-Up approach to be most effective in my program.  The reason we implement the Bottom-Up system is that, in my experience, it does a better job of strengthening not only the primary movers of the exercise, but it also does a tremendous job of developing the stabilizing muscles used when performing the power clean.  An additional benefit to using a Bottom-Up progression is that if a hand or wrist injury occurs with an athlete, they already have experience performing the modified movements like the clean pull or hang high pull.  One unique aspect of our power clean progression is that we use a partial range of motion to full range of motion philosophy when teaching technique.  We have seen substantial success using this model, but I need to reiterate that this is just what works best for me and our program.  

There are a couple of things we must discuss that are uniform across the board when talking about power clean technique:

Grip: When using an Olympic lifting barbell, the athlete grips the bar a thumbs-length from the “power clean ring” on the barbell.  Also make sure the grip is always outside the legs, not inside.  If the athlete has the ability to use the “hook grip” we will allow it, but do not make it mandatory.

Shoulder Position:  The shoulders should always be “covering up” the barbell in the starting position.

Barbell Position:  The barbell should always be pulled as close to the body as possible, and is either touching the thigh when the starting position is inside the rack/blocks, or touching the shin when lifting the barbell off the floor.

Power Clean Progression

RACK PULL

The Rack Pull is the first movement in our power clean progression.  The benefits of using the Rack Pull as the first exercise is that it teaches proper body position for pulling the barbell from a static position.  When performing this exercise, the athlete must focus on keeping the chest out, lower back tight & arched, and lifting with the legs not the back.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 1 – 6 x 5 WK 1 – 6 x 5 WK 1 – 6 x 5

WK 2 – 6 x 4 WK 2 – 6 x 4

WK 3 – 6 x 3

DEADLIFT

We cue our athletes to perform the Deadlift movement exactly as they did with the Rack Pull, with the only difference being pulling from the floor instead of the rack.  One important coaching point  when the athlete lifts the barbell off the floor is to cue everything rising together;  the athlete wants to avoid the hips rising too quickly.  If the hips rise too fast, the athlete will then lift with their back instead of their legs, which is not what we want when performing this exercise.  We want to focus on lifting with our legs not our back.  

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 4 – 6 x 5 WK 3 – 6 x 5 WK 2 – 6 x 5

WK 5 – 6 x 5 WK 4 – 6 x 4

WK 6 – 6 x 3

RACK CLEAN PULL (Jump Shrug)

The Rack Clean Pull is the first movement where we add the explosive aspect to our power clean progression.  We teach the Rack Clean Pull by telling the athlete to perform the Rack Pull, but we jump through the roof and shrug the barbell at the top of the jump.  The arms should stay straight and cannot bend while executing the lift.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 7 – 6 x 5 WK 5 – 6 x 5 WK 3 – 6 x 5

WK 8 – 6 x 4 WK 6 – 6 x 4

WK 9 – 6 x 3

CLEAN PULL (Jump Shrug from Floor)

The Clean Pull is the first explosive pull from the ground in our power clean progression and is coached by telling the athlete to perform the Rack Clean Pull starting from the floor instead of the rack.  This exercise can also be used for athletes who have wrist/hand injuries that preclude them from performing a full clean.  The Clean Pull also is used for a regression for those athlete’s who bend the arms too early when performing the Power or Hang Clean.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 10 – 6 x 5 WK 7 – 6 x 4 WK 4 – 6 x 4

WK 11 – 6 x 4 WK 8 – 6 x 3

WK 12 – 6 x 3

HANG HIGH PULL

The Hang High Pull is our first movement where we bend at the elbow and hips to complete the exercise.  This is a great exercise to develop explosiveness for an athlete who has a wrist/hand issue but cannot perform a clean catch.  The cue we use for teaching the Hang High Pull is to jump & shrug into an upright wow (which would have already been taught) while pulling yourself under the barbell at the apex of the movement.  We teach athletes to pound the heels through the ground, which ensures the athlete is bending at the hips to get under the barbell and bending into a quarter-squat position.  Another added benefit of teaching the pounding of the heels is that it gives the athlete an audible cue to use.  9 times out of 10, if they do that correctly, everything else works properly as well.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 13 – 6 x 5 WK 9 – 6 x 4 WK 5 – 6 x 4

WK 14 – 6 x 4 WK 10 – 6 x 3

WK 15 – 6 x 3

RACK / BLOCK CLEAN

The Rack Clean or Block Clean are the same movements, the difference between the two is one is done out of a half- or power-rack while the other is performed off technique blocks.  The preferred method would be to use blocks if they are available, but if they are not then using the safety bars of a rack will suffice.  This is the first movement in our power clean progression where we will now catch the barbell at the top of the movement.  When catching the barbell, the athlete wants it to land on the natural shelf of the shoulders in the “rack” position.  This position is the exact same position an athlete uses when performing the front squat, which we would have already taught in great detail beforehand – see http://iyca.org/front-squat-progression.  When teaching this exercise, we tell the athlete to perform the Hang High Pull from the rack, but we add the catch in the rack position.  The jump & shrug into an upright row and pounding of the heels remain the same, and give the athlete points to return to if necessary.  Make sure the athlete allows the barbell to come to complete rest in the rack/blocks in between repetitions;  do not allow a bounce at the bottom of the movement because it will cause improper execution.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 16 – 6 x 5 WK 11 – 6 x 4 WK 6 – 6 x 4

WK 17 – 6 x 4 WK 12 – 6 x 3

WK 18 – 6 x 3

HANG CLEAN

The Hang Clean is just like previous exercise, but now the athlete is standing free on the platform and not inside a rack or using blocks.  Do not allow athletes to rock back & forth to generate momentum before performing the exercise.  This is not proper execution.  Focus on controlling the barbell at the start of the movement as opposed to using momentum to complete the lift.  The Hang Clean is where we will stop our 7th graders progression for the year.  Once they learn this movement we will focus on perfecting their technique for the rest of the year.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 19 – 6 x 4 WK 13 – 6 x 3 WK 7 – 6 x 3

WK 20 – 6 x 3 WK 14 – 6 x 2

WK 21+ – 6 x 2

HANG SQUAT CLEAN

The Hang Squat Clean is the exact same as the Hang Clean, except for the position of the catch.  When catching the barbell of the Hang Clean we are in the quarter squat position, but the catch in the Hang Squat Clean occurs at the bottom of the front squat position.  Performing this movement allows us to focus on getting the athlete under the barbell and adds some “athletic development” to the action.  To be able to perform this movement correctly, the athlete must be able to perform all of the previous progressions (as well as the front squat) efficiently.  Again our 7th graders do not perform this exercise, but our 8th graders and high school age athletes do.

8th Grade High School

WK 15 – 6 x 4 WK 8 – 6 x 3

WK 16 – 6 x 3

POWER CLEAN

The full Power Clean is the final movement in our power clean progression, and is what we have been working towards with this technical progression.  When teaching the Power Clean as before we just have the athlete’s put the Clean Pull & Hang Clean movements together.  Saying it in this manner gives the athlete something they can relate to since they have already worked through the progression, and can now perform those exercises proficiently.  When we catch the barbell in the Power Clean, we teach catching in the quarter squat position.  For our purposes, catching in the low front squat position constitutes a different exercise, and we wait to add that in later in training.  

8th Grade High School

WK 17 – 6 x 4 WK 9 – 6 x 3

WK 18+ – 6 x 3

Because of the high degree of technique required, many issues can arise during the power clean progression.  One of the most common we see involves athletes lifting with their arms or back instead of their legs.  Lifting with the back puts unwanted stress and strain on the lower back area, which can commonly lead to muscle strains and back issues, even with a relatively light load.  Using the arms creates different issues and will limit the amount of weight that can ultimately be lifted.  In some cases, the athlete may not be able to get into a proper starting position, which leads to lifting with the back as opposed to with the legs.   If that is case, and flexibility or mobility is the issue, then performing movements to increase an athlete’s flexibility & mobility is highly recommended, along with only having them pull from a position high enough to achieve the proper starting position.

Another issue that was mentioned earlier is athletes pulling with their arms too early.  The second an athlete bends the elbows, the ability of the hips to produce force is gone.  To steal from the great Gayle Hatch, “the elbow bends, the power ends.”  This is where having a qualified coach is really important.  Being able to dissect the issue and give appropriate feedback and instruction is critical, and is often a problem for under-qualified coaches.  When this issue occurs, we typically have the athlete regress to the Clean Pull for 1-2 weeks and pay special attention to keeping the elbows straight.  Using this regression has provided positive results in getting kids to bend the elbows at the correct time.

The power clean progression closes this series on exercises progressions, and I want to thank Jim Kielbaso and the IYCA for allowing me to share our progressions with you.  As always I look forward to feedback about this article or anything else that you may want to discuss.  I can be reached at tjacobi@strong-rock.com

Tobias Jacobi

Tobias  Jacobi has been a strength & conditioning coach at Strong Rock Christian School for 4 years and spent 15 years as a college S & C coach before that.  He spent time at East Carolina University, Charleston Southern University, Kent State University, Western Carolina University, Elon University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Cumberland University.  He holds multiple certifications, has worked with thousands of athletes at every level, and has spoken at clinics all over the country.

 

 

For more information on how to train high school athletes, check out the IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist course and certification.  The HSSCS is the only certification available that focuses entirely on training high school ages athletes.  The HSSCS includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from 20 of the top strength & conditioning coaches from major universities, high schools, private facilities and NFL teams.  Click on the image below to learn more about the High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist credential.

A Place for Olympic Weightlifting in an LTAD Approach

Olympic-style weightlifting exercises have found their place in the process of developing athletes, a process that often begins during childhood and early adolescence. Their exact role, however, is still controversial. While the Olympic-style weightlifting exercises haveyouth weightlifting found their place in the training of elite athletes, the best way to utilize them with youth and adolescence athletes is still unclear.

At its core, strength training essentially gives an upgrade to basic motor patterns like squatting, hinging and pressing but also lunging, pulling and pushing, and this increase in muscular strength is an important part of the development of a young athlete. Long term athlete development (LTAD), however, is more than just making young athletes stronger. It is a multidisciplinary approach aimed to improve skills and physical attributes that are necessary to compete in sport.  It is a learning process that moves from the foundation of athleticism to the acquisition of sport-specific skills.

Olympic weightlifting is similar.  It requires a great deal of time to develop the skills and physical attributes necessary for athletes to excel in the snatch, clean and jerk. Many weightlifting experts such as Harvey Newton and Bob Takano have written and spoken about how much time and energy is required to develop great weightlifters.  

The 10,000 hour rule has often been referenced in respect to developing great weightlifters.  As far back as 1952, Soviet weightlifting expert Madvedyev wrote about the need for 10,000 hours of training in the long term development plan for weightlifters.  Takano, who has trained athletes – including many top American weightlifters – for over 30 years, has said that it takes 10,000 repetitions to develop proficiency in weightlifting.

To make this happen, it would take about five years of training and competing in weightlifting, at an average of 2000 repetitions a year to become proficient in the snatch, clean and jerk.  This comes out to approximately 40 repetitions a week divided between the three major lifts and their derivatives.  With the average number of lifting sessions per week being only two (2) for high school athletes and younger, 20 reps a day would need to be performed.  If there was a focus on quality & intensity, 20 repetitions would make up almost 50% of the total average training volume for a single training session of approximately 60 minutes, which will typically also include speed, agility and accessory strength training.

Athletes would have to start this kind of training program in 8th grade and continue, year-round until graduation to get the requisite number of repetitions to be proficient in the eyes of the experts cited above.  This is a tremendous amount of time and effort that most coaches, athletes or parents would never commit to.

Still, many coaches prescribe Olympic weightlifting to young athletes in an effort to harness the power development benefits of the exercises, not worrying about proficiency.  Many coaches spend less than a week teaching the lifts before loading them and testing athletes.  If they’re lucky, young athletes will be taught the lifts through a progression that might take several weeks.  

This is a stark contrast to the way master-level coaches like Takano and Madvedyev suggest.  

Both Faigenbaum (2009) and Molina (2006) have warned coaches about this thought process.  They have explained that, if an athlete does not have the necessary amount of time to gain proficiency in the snatch, clean and jerk, the risks associated with the exercises far exceed the benefits.  

But, what if there was a way to teach young athletes how to perform Olympic-style weightlifting exercises as they learn how to squat, jump and throw or perform any of the fundamental motor skills needed to compete in sport?  Or take advantage of the benefits of OLY lifting without going through the arduous process of performing 10,000 repetitions?  

Most adolescent athletes are still in the process of learning and mastering a broad variety of skills that represent the foundation of athleticism.  Making a teenage athlete stronger is certainly valuable, but strength training is usually not the primary goal for most athletes in a long term athlete development (LTAD) model. LTAD is not about training high school and collegiate athletes as they were weightlifters: it is about teaching them the proper skills/form to be able to benefit from a broad variety of movements that can, and will, improve performance on the field of play if properly executed in training.

It is rather intuitive, therefore, that time is a major limiting factor that can somehow compromise the ability to learn how snatch, weightlifting in LTADclean and jerk.

When it comes to developing a more explosive triple-extension (a skill that will be beneficial in a variety of sports), studies have shown that weighted pulls (Olympic-style pulls and high pulls from the ground and/or from the power position) can display similar, if not superior, results compared to the full snatch, clean and jerk. Because the technique requirements are so much lower when performing pulls (compared to the full version of each lift), they can be implemented into a program much quicker than the full lifts. Eliminating the catching phase of each lift also makes them much safer for inexperienced lifters.  

When an inexperienced lifter is working with relatively low weights due to lack of technical skill, he/she will not derive the same benefit from the exercise compared to performing heavy Olympic-style weightlifting exercises.  The main benefit at this point is learning technique as he/she practices.  For an athlete who is not competing in the sport of weightlifting, this could be considered a waste of time.  

On the other hand, pulling a bar from the power position into a shrug – the most basic variation of the weightlifting pull, called “extension” or simply “pull” – can be performed almost immediately by most athletes.

Recent studies have shown that peak power output does not really differ much from  the full execution of the snatch, clean and jerk and the “partial” execution of a pull or an high pull.  In fact, most studies are showing that peak power output is actually greater in the mid-thigh clean pull and/or power shrug compared to the full movements.  This means that athletes can learn how to be explosive and develop a stronger and more powerful musculature of the lower extremity simply by adding pulls and high pulls in their training instead of being required to spend the time to develop proficiency in the complete lifts.

Can they still learn how to snatch, clean and jerk?  Absolutely.  If they have the time, these are great exercise to learn and they can surely add some value to the training of young athletes. But, when time is limited, implementing a pulling variation is an excellent way to derive the benefits of Olympic lifting movements without forcing non-weightlifting athletes to spend the time to master the lifts.  

Besides the performance benefits, another reason to teach pulls to young athletes involves a motor learning component.  Athletes seem to learn complex movement patterns by transferring skills from task to task.  This is the essence of the “transfer of learning theory” which states that the learning of complex skills – such as sport-specific skills – relies on what psychologists have named the transfer-appropriate processing (TAP) approach. This theory explains how complex, highly organized skills can be learned by adapting neurological patterns (i.e.inter- and intra-muscular coordination, timing, rate of force development and peak power output) previously learned to accomplish a new task.

This is more than just changing the superficial parameters on a set motor scheme as Schmidt originally suggested.  Instead, it appears that a brand new motor pattern can be created from scratch by transferring over skills previously learned in a different context. For instance, if an athlete already knows how to perform a kip (a fundamental skill in gymnastics), he or she will be more likely to learn how to pole vault – one of the most advanced, complicated skills in track and field – in a much more efficient way than an athlete who does not understand how to “pull him/herself into the bar.”  Similarly, if an athlete already knows how to jump, he or she will more easily learn how to perform a weighted pull from mid-thigh.  Once an athlete is familiar with a weighted pull, it will be easier for him/her to learn how to complete a full Olympic-weightlifting movement in the future.  So, the ability to forcefully extend the lower extremities, and transfer force from the lower body to the upper body, will be better able to transfer those skills to other movements such as a clean, snatch, tackle or throw.  

Weighted pulls sit on a relatively low level along the motor learning continuum described by Antoinette Gentile in 1972.  Pulls and high pulls have a relatively low level of complexity and inter-trial variability – they are just “above” jumping skills in a theoretical hierarchy, but far below snatching, cleaning and jerking which represent a very high level of complexity and variability.

The learning process that takes place between being able to jump to learning how to pull, therefore, is much shorter than the one that takes place between being able to pull to learning how to snatch, clean and/or jerk.  Anyone who has experience teaching these skills knows this to be true. But, trying to go from a jump to a full Olympic movement is very difficult.  The intermediate step of teaching the pull is not only a great way to bridge that learning gap, it also give you a training tool that can derive immediate results.  

As you can see, teaching and implementing Olympic lifting pulling variations with young athletes can have both training and motor learning benefits.  We know that young athletes benefit from the development of both strength and coordination, so it seems logical to utilize these movements as part of a long term approach.  

 

Antonio Squillante is the Director of Sports Performance at Velocity Sports Performance in Los Angeles, California. He is in charge of the youth development program which include over 100 athletes 17 years old and under competing in many different sports. Antonio graduated summa cum laude from the University San Raffaele – Rome, Italy – with a Doctorate Degree in Exercise Science.  He has worked in college and professional athletics, has written numerous articles and holds certifications from multiple organizations.

 

 

The IYCA Youth Fitness Specialist certification is the industry gold-standard for youth fitness and sports performance.  Click on the image below to learn more about the YFS1 certification program.

Bench Press Progression – Part 2 in a Series on Exercise Progressions

bench press progressionPause Bench Press Progression – In the last installment of this article series, we talked about the importance of exercise progressions and the front squat progression we utilize with our middle school and high school athletes.  It can be found at http://iyca.org/front-squat-progression.  In this installment we will be discussing the importance of the Pause Bench Press progression.  We will also give you the progression plan we implement with our athletes and our recommendations for athletes in  7th and 8th grade and high school.  In the last portion of this article, we will discuss some problems or issues that may occur when prescribing this exercise and the reasoning behind our use of this particular exercise for our program.  

When most people talk about strength training, weightlifting, powerlifting, or bodybuilding, the bench press is probably most commonly mentioned exercise, and probably the most commonly performed exercise.  Go to any gym, health club, fitness center, box, or whatever the facility is, and there will be a place to bench press there.  That can be a good thing and bad thing because many people believe that anyone can do it without a plan for progression when learning the movement.  Skipping over the basics in anything is usually detrimental, but in lifting it can cause long term issues that are hard to overcome.  Age appropriate progressions are the key, so let’s go through our Pause Bench Press progression one step at a time.

Bench Push-Up

This is our starting point for our pause bench press progression. We begin with both hands on the bench  performing a push-up with our chest touching the bench in each repetition. Body posture and proper execution is the focus when performing this exercise.  If a kid needs to, they can put their knees on the ground as a regression. We will not progress an athlete if they cannot perform 10 perfect reps of the exercise.  

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 1 – 6 x 6 WK 1 – 6 x 8 WK 1 – 6 x 10

WK 2 – 6 x 8 WK 2 – 6 x 12

WK 3 – 6 x 10

 

Push-Up

For the next exercise in our pause bench press progression, we increase the difficulty and volume of exercise from the previous movement.  Just as with the focus of the previous movement, body posture and proper execution of the exercise is critical for maximum benefit to the athlete.  When performing this movement, we tell the athletes to squeeze the elbows into the body, not allowing them to flare outward. Just as with the Bench Push-Up, if needed they can have their knees on the ground. We will not progress an athlete if they cannot perform 10 perfect reps of the exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 4 – 6 x 6 WK 3 – 6 x 8 WK 2 – 6 x 12

WK 5 – 6 x 8 WK 4 – 6 x 12

WK 6 – 6 x 10

When beginning to use weight while performing a bench pressing variation, whether it is barbell, dumbbell, or kettlebell… safety is important.  We use a back spotter, who can provide either a lift off or a spot for safety purposes. We avoid using side spotters due to the possibility of one spotter grabbing the barbell and tipping it when trying to assist. We teach our spotters to have their hands in an over & under grip close to the barbell without touching it. We want to see that space/gap to ensure that the lifter is doing the work, while giving the spotter the ability to assist if needed. When spotting the dumbbells, we have the spotter spot near the lifter’s wrist. This way the spotter can assist the lifter appropriately during the exercise.  

 The next crucial thing we teach is the proper set-up on the bench.  We utilize a consistent barbell to eye relationship by having the athlete lie down directly under the barbell in a straight line upward.  The next thing to teach is pulling the shoulder blades together and digging into the bench when laying the back down. We have an advantage for athletes performing this movement because of our specialized type of upholstery designed to allow the lifter to grip into the bench more easily when lifting.

Body position is the next thing we teach our athletes when it comes to our Bench Press progressions.  First, we want the shoulder blades in the bench.  Second, we want the hips to stay in constant contact with the bench for the entire time throughout the movement. Lastly, we want the feet flat and pressed into the floor. This allows for the lifter to use the lower body by pressing through the floor during the bench pressing exercises.

The grip on the barbell is the next part of the exercise execution. We have tape on our barbells to better assist our athletes in knowing where to put their hands. Our blue tape is on the outer ring of the power barbell, while the red tape is on the smooth part of the power barbell and knurling ends towards the middle of the barbell.  We allow for comfort purposes that our athletes go no wider than pinky fingers on the blue tape.  

Barbell path is something most people usually don’t pay much attention to, but it’s something we coach about constantly.  We teach a straight-line path for the weight to travel. In my opinion, doing this is the safest and most efficient way to press.  Straight-line pressing also allows the lifter to better find their groove when pressing.  Each of the previous components are coached each time we perform a bench press variation.

Once we begin to utilize weight in our progressions, we use barbell to dumbbell type of progressions.  Using the barbell first allows for proper development of a lifting path while using the dumbbells. It adds a stabilization effect and increases the execution difficulty as we advance in our progression plan.  Another thing you will notice in our progression plan is the initial use of partial range of motion, followed by full range of motion movements.   

Floor Press

This is the first exercise in which we add external resistance in our bench press progression. We begin with a 25lbs barbell and then work up from that point.  Have the lifter lie on the ground under the barbell, have them lower the barbell straight down tucking the elbows in at a 45-degree angle. Then they should lower the barbell until the elbows come to rest on the ground. Once the barbell is completely at rest, the lifter should press the barbell upward fully locking out the arms to complete the exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 7 – 6 x 6 WK 5 – 6 x 12 WK 3 – 6 x 10

WK 8 – 6 x 8 WK 6 – 6 x 10

WK 9 – 6 x 10

 

DB Floor Press

This is the same movement, but instead of using the barbell, use of dumbbells is introduced. When performing this movement, we have the palms facing towards each other which makes it a little easier to keep the elbows in the proper position.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 10 – 6 x 8 WK 7 – 6 x 12 WK 4 – 6 x 10

WK 11 – 6 x 10 WK 8 – 6 x 10

WK 12 – 6 x 12

 

Board Press

This exercise is another “partial range of motion” movement, but with greater motion than the Floor Press.  We start by placing a shoulder saver from elitefts on the barbell in the middle of the bar.  This lift is begun by having the lifter lower the barbell the same way as in the Floor Press, stopping when the shoulder saver comes to rest on the chest.  Once the barbell is on the chest, the lifter presses the barbell upward locking the arms out to complete the exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 13 – 6 x 12 WK 9 – 6 x 10 WK 5 – 6 x 8

WK 14 – 6 x 10 WK 10 – 6 x 8

WK 15 – 6 x 8

DB Bench Press

This is the first full range of motion exercise we use in our bench press progression. We use the same palms-facing-forward hand position as the DB Floor Press.  Have the athlete get set-up on the bench, then extend the dumbbells with the arms to get started performing the exercise.  Lower the dumbbells down until they touch the chest, then press them upward until the arms are locked out at the top.  Focus must be on paying attention to not bouncing the weight off the chest with momentum. The lifter must control the weight the entire time while performing the exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 16 – 6 x 12 WK 11 – 6 x 10 WK 6 – 6 x 10

WK 17 – 6 x 10 WK 12 – 6 x 8

WK 18 – 6 x 8

 

Close Grip Bench Press

This is another full range of motion movement in our bench press progression and is very close to our final movement. The biggest thing with this movement is the lifter’s grip of the barbell. We have our athletes place their middle finger on the red tape on the barbell to start.  To initiate the exercise, the lifter lowers the barbell down under control until it touches the chest, then the lifter presses the barbell upward completing the exercise by locking out the arms at the top.  Focus must be on paying attention to not bouncing the weight off the chest, as the lifter must control the weight the entire time while performing this exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 19 – 6 x 12 WK 13 – 6 x 10 WK 7 – 6 x 8

WK 20 – 6 x 10 WK 14 – 6 x 8

WK 21 – 6 x 8

 

DB Incline Press

This is really the only exception to our rule of barbell first, dumbbell second, in our bench press progression. When performing this movement, which is very similar to the DB Bench Press, the angle of the bench is in an inclined position.  Remember that we want to utilize the same hand position as all other dumbbell pressing exercises. Again, attention must be paid to not bouncing the weight off the chest, as the lifter must control the weight the entire time while performing the exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 22 – 6 x 12 WK 15 – 6 x 10 WK 8 – 6 x 8

WK 23 – 6 x 10 WK 16 – 6 x 8

WK 24 – 6 x 8

 

Pause Bench Press

This is the final movement in our pause bench press progression and it is the primary upper body pressing exercise in our program. When performing this exercise, the lifter lowers the barbell as before until the barbell rests on the chest. The lifter remains tight and pauses for 3 seconds, then explosively presses the barbell upward, completing the movement by locking the arms at the top of the exercise.  Controlling the barbell throughout the entire exercise is vital to the successful performance of the exercise.

7th Grade 8th Grade High School

WK 25 – 6 x 12 WK 17 – 6 x 10 WK 9+ – 6 x 8

WK 26 – 6 x 10 WK 18+ – 6 x 8

WK 27+ – 6 x 8

 

The most common issue that arises when following a bench press progression is doing things too fast and too soon.  As I mentioned earlier, everyone thinks they can bench press, but performing the exercise, and performing the exercise correctly/safely are two different things.  One of the reasons we utilize the pause in our bench press movement is to teach proper control of the exercise instead of bouncing the barbell.  Another reason we have embraced the pause is that it helps keep the hips on the bench while pressing the barbell. Yes, adding the pause will decrease the total weight a lifter can press. However, we believe this is the most efficient way for an athlete to press with the upper body.  Adding the pause reveals a lifter’s true upper body strength levels.

This is the second of three in our series of progression articles. I love the feedback I have already received, and I look forward to the third article, which will cover how we teach the power clean in our program. Not only will we discuss the progression we implement, but we’ll share the reasoning behind why we teach the progression the way we do. I would love to hear what you think, and I can be reached at tjacobi@strong-rock.com

Tobias Jacobi

Tobias  Jacobi has been a strength & conditioning coach at Strong Rock Christian School for 4 years and spent 15 years as a college S & C coach before that.  He spent time at East Carolina University, Charleston Southern University, Kent State University, Western Carolina University, Elon University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Cumberland University.  He holds multiple certifications, has worked with thousands of athletes at every level, and has spoken at clinics all over the country.

 

 

For more information on how to train high school athletes, check out the IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist course and certification.  The HSSCS is the only certification available that focuses entirely on training high school ages athletes.  The HSSCS includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from 20 of the top strength & conditioning coaches from major universities, high schools, private facilities and NFL teams.  Click on the image below to learn more about the High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist credential.

Front Squat Progression – Part 1 In a Series on Exercise Progressions

Front Squat Progression

When I started working as a high school strength and conditioning coach after 15 years in college S & C, the importance of proper progressions took on a whole new meaning to me.  Not only are progressions critical to development, but the safety aspect simply cannot be understated.  The primary movements I have selected for our high school strength & conditioning program are the Pause Bench Press, Front Squat, and Power Clean.  In this article I will be covering the Front Squat Progression I use in our program.  

Each step in the front squat progression progression takes 6-9 weeks, with each exercise building into the next.  With almost two decades of coaching at multiple levels, and working with thousands of athletes, I feel that utilizing these progressions sets our athletes up for long-term success and safety.  

In the last portion of the article, I will discuss how we incorporate areas that impact our squat progressions along with some of the issues a coach may encounter when implementing a system with these types of progressions.  

While the goal of a high school strength and conditioning program is help prepare athletes for their chosen sport, as much as I hate to say it, lifting weights is not the main priority for most young athletes.  The reason they train is to get stronger, faster, more agile, and more flexible in an effort to excel in their sport.  With that in mind, the last thing we want is an athlete getting injured inside the weight room because of improper training.  Using progressions helps ensure we are building the in right direction.

In our high school strength & conditioning program, the Front Squat is our staple exercise for developing lower body strength.  In my opinion, the Front Squat is the best option for strengthening the lower body for athletes.  As a former powerlifter, I have a fondness for the back squat. but I have found that, when dealing with youth and high school age athletes, the Front Squat holds more benefit and significantly less risk than the traditional back squat exercise.

With all primary movements, we start with isometrics, then we focus on mastering body weight exercises, followed by partial range of motion movements with external load, and finally full range of motion exercises.  Our squat progressions are as follows:

 

Isometric Athletic Hold

I like this exercise to begin the front squat progression as it can be taught to any age and any training level.  It is the fundamental athletic position which all athletes should master.  Starting here gives the coach many different directions to go when it comes to training.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 20 second holds working up to 60 second holds.

Video of Iso Athletic Hold

 

Isometric Wall Squat

This is an easy transition from the Isometric Athletic Hold.  When performing this exercise, focus on proper depth. We get the thigh parallel to the ground.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 30 seconds holds working up to 60 second holds.

Video of Iso Wall Squat

 

TRX Squat

This exercise is our first non-isometric movement.  This TRX Squat is easy to perform and really allows the athlete to feel how to hinge at the hips and sit back.  We coach the athlete to go as low as possible, which can vary depending upon many different issues.  In this case we operate with “the lower the better mentality” and since it isn’t a loaded movement, unless there is a pre-existing condition, athletes should not have an issue performing this exercise with a full range of motion.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 6 reps and working up to 10 reps.

Video of TRX Squat

 

Body Weight Box Squat

This is a great exercise for teaching the hinge of the hips, proper posture and positioning, and feeling what it is like to hit proper depth when performing a squat.  When performing this exercise, a box of 12-15 inches will be used for most athletes depending on their height.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 8 reps working up to 12 reps.

Video of Body Weight Box Squat

 

Goblet Squat

This is the first exercise in our front squat progression that utilizes an external load.  By now, the athlete should be proficient at hinging at the hip, maintaining good posture throughout the movement, and understand proper squat depth. Start with a light weights and gradually progress, always making sure that proper technique is being used.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 6 reps working up to 10 reps.

front squat progression

Core Blaster Squat

This exercise is one I recently added and have really seen a lot of benefit from performing.  While it’s like the Goblet Squat in many ways, the use of the Core Blaster adds a different stimulus to the exercise, along with being able to significantly increase the load used during the lift.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 6 reps working up to 10 reps.

Overhead Squat

We begin the Overhead Squat using a PVC pipe, and progress to using a barbell for those who can properly execute the movement.  Maintaining great posture and body control during this exercise is critical to the execution of the movement.  Mastering this movement is vital to properly set up the athlete for success in our following exercises.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 5 reps working up to 8 reps.

Video of Overhead Squat

 

Free Weight Squat

This exercise is the most challenging of all the exercises within our front squat progression.  It is also the most uncomfortable for new lifters.  The Free Weight Squat is great for teaching the proper position of the barbell in the “rack” position of the front squat, or “catch” on the power clean.  This is also a great exercise to emphasize proper hip hinge and posture during the squat.  If the arms drop, the chest follows, then the barbell begins to drop. Depending on the age of the athlete, we may start with a PVC pipe then work up to the barbell.

Sets & Reps: 4-6 sets, starting with 5 reps working up to 8 reps.

Video of Free Weight Squat

 

Front Squat

This is the final stage in our Front Squat progression.  As was stated earlier, we believe that the Front Squat is the best squat for an athlete to perform when attempting to improve athletic performance.  

Video of Front Squat

This is our complete Front Squat Progression.  We believe this progression prepares athletes for the demands that will be placed upon them in our program.  Another important aspect of our program is that we super-set just about every exercise.   We do this for a couple of reasons:

  1. We have very limited time during the class day and super-setting allows us to increase the overall volume of work we can do during that time.  Some days, we only have 25 minutes during class so we must figure out how to be productive with that type of schedule.
  2. Super-sets are a simple way to spend time on the commonly neglected areas of the body. This allows us to work on wrist mobility, core work, neck strengthening, and muscular balance for the upper & lower extremities.
  3. It is a straightforward way to build training density.  We increase our overall workload over time, not only in our primary movements, but also in our super-setted movements.

Many athletes want to rush the early stages of our front squat progression.  In my experience, if there is a frustration or complaint by an athlete, it stems from either a lack of adequate coaching or the inability of the athlete to properly perform the exercise.  Many people want to lift heavy weights, especially young males.  When utilizing a progression program like this, it is important for the coach to explain why and how it will be beneficial to long-term athletic development.  

Other times, an overzealous parent may be the issue.  Some parents want to rush things and have their child perform exercises before the are properly prepared.  Again, communication is vital.  In my experience, with parent issues like this, once you explain that you are considering safety and long-term development, what parent in the right mind cold get upset?  When you have the child’s best interest in mind, you’re certainly headed in the right direction.

In the next installment of this series of articles I will be discussing the progressions we use for the Pause Bench Press, the reasons why we perform that particular exercise, and how to utilize other exercises to build a bigger bench press.  

I hope you have found this informative and I would love feedback and discussion about this or any other topic regarding strength & conditioning.  My email is tjacobi@strong-rock.com and I would love to hear from you.  

Tobias Jacobi

Tobias  Jacobi has been a strength & conditioning coach at Strong Rock Christian School for 4 years and spent 15 years as a college S & C coach before that.  He spent time at East Carolina University, Charleston Southern University, Kent State University, Western Carolina University, Elon University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Cumberland University.  He holds multiple certifications, has worked with thousands of athletes at every level, and has spoken at clinics all over the country.

 

For more information on how to train high school athletes, check out the IYCA High School Strength and Conditioning Specialist course and certification.  The HSSCS is the only certification available that focuses entirely on training high school ages athletes.  The HSSCS includes several hours of video instruction and two textbooks with contributions from 20 of the top strength & conditioning coaches from major universities, high schools, private facilities and NFL teams.  Click on the image below to learn more about the High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist credential.

Top 4 Exercises to Improve the Power Clean

In this article Coach Tobias Jacobi discusses the top 4 exercises used to improve the power clean.

The power clean is one of the most popular exercises used to improve sports performance.  The ability to externally load the triple extension of the knee, hip, and ankle is one of the main reasons the power clean is so popular.  Another reason is the coordination required to properly perform the exercise,

Improve the power clean

which leads itself to being a movement that assists in athletic development.  In my time as strength & conditioning coach at both the high school and collegiate levels, I have noticed a trend that athletes who perform the power clean the best often see great carry-over onto the playing field.

The technical aspect of the exercise must be stressed, taught, and progressed properly in an age-appropriate manner.  In our system, we teach 7th graders the hang clean over a 34-week program, 8th grader perform the power clean by the end of our 34th week, and our high school student-athletes go through a 9-week progression program.  In this article, we will discuss some of the exercises we use to help improve the power clean performance of our athletes.  The front squat, hang squat clean, overhead squat, and KB swing are all exercises that we use to help increase our performance of the power clean.

Front Squat

In my opinion, the best assistance exercise to improve the power clean is the front squat.  We recently make a change in our program when we switched our primary squat variation from the box squat to the front squat.  Making this change has already lead to significant increases in our athlete’s ability to perform the power clean.  Because it helps mimic the catch of the power clean, we place great emphasis on the rack position during the front squat.  Doing this helps athletes learn the proper position for catching the barbell at the bottom of the power clean.

Just like any exercise, we see common issues in the front squat that must be addressed.  The first issue a coach will run into is the position of the barbell in the rack position.  The bar should be resting on the natural “shelf” created by getting into the “rack position” free weight squat to improve the power cleanwhere the barbell will be placed on the deltoids near the upper clavicle.  To address this, our teaching progression includes the “free weight squat,” something I stole from Iowa’s Football Strength & Conditioning Coach, Chris Doyle.  The free weight squat is basically a front squat with the arms pointed straight ahead instead of gripping the bar.  This teaches athletes the proper barbell placement when performing the front squat.

Another issue is the hand placement during the exercise.  Because of our teaching progressions and attention to detail, we have had tremendous success using the “rack position” for the front squat.  Wrist mobility and flexibility work is included in our programs starting in the 7th grade, which has given our athletes the mobility necessary to use this position.  As a college coach, I dealt with many athletes who lacked the mobility to get into the rack position, so I often had to adjust their hand placement in the front squat.   We would often hold onto wrist straps that were strapped to the barbell. For other athletes, we would have them only perform the free weight squat, and in some of the worst cases, we would have athletes cross their arms.  I believe the carryover from the front squat to the power clean is severely diminished when you use a different grip then the rack position, so this needs to be emphasized if the goal is to improve the power clean.  Here is a properly performed front squat:

Hang Squat Clean

In my opinion, the 2nd best assistance exercise to improve the power clean is the hang squat clean.  When performing this exercise, it is important to make sure the athlete is being explosive by initiating the exercise with a jump.  A common mistake is to perform the exercise by simply dropping under the barbell instead of moving the bar upward.  While this seems to accomplish the same end result, it defeats the purpose of the exercise, which is to generate power.  The other portion of the lift that a coach must pay special attention to is catching the barbell at the bottom of the squat.  Doing this helps improve the lifters ability to catch the barbell with heavy loads.  With this exercise, you must start with lighter weights and slowly progress to heavier loads.  Once this exercise is mastered, athletes will see a significant improvement in their ability to perform the power clean.

Again, when implementing the hang squat clean, we introduce it as part of our power clean progression, so our kids will actually perform this variation before they perform the full power clean.  We have seen tremendous success using this format and it allows for the usage of multiple exercises throughout the duration of an athletes training career in our program.  Performing the movement fluidly and not achieving proper depth on the catch are two common issues coaches will see when implementing the hang squat clean.  Both issues are fixable when coached properly over time.

The fluidity of the movement is very important to the proper execution of the exercise and takes some time for athletes to understand.  Fear also prevents some athletes from catching the barbell down in the full squat position.  That is one of the reasons that we use this in our teaching progressions, so kids understand it’s not about load, it is about proper technique.  Once they understand this, they typically begin to perform the exercise properly and feel successful.  In some cases, I have had to regress athletes to a hang clean to front squat combination exercise to get the movement patterns to slowly work together.

The other issue a coach may see is the athlete not being able to achieve the full squat position when they catch the barbell.  Each situation is different.  The issue could be lack of hip flexibility, lack of ankle flexibility, or again just fear of getting under the barbell.  Kids with larger bodies also have a tendency to lock the hips when catching the barbell.  This is usually a technical motor pattern a coach must clean up or may stem from fear, where the athlete will have to develop confidence with lighter loads.  If it is a flexibility issue for the hips, the overhead squat is my favorite exercise to address the problem.  There are plenty of exercises that can be used for this, so pick what works best for your situation.  If it is and ankle mobility problem, we address that by using slant boards and band stretches to help develop the needed range of motion.

Here is a properly performed hang squat clean:

Overhead Squat

My 3rd favorite exercise to help improve the power clean is the overhead squat.  This exercise is typically associated with performing the snatch, however in my experience it is also great for building a solid power clean.  The biggest carry over from the overhead squat to the power clean is that it teaches the full range of motion when they catch the barbell in the bottom of the power clean.  Another benefit that is added from the overhead squat is the teaching of balance and weight distribution.  This is a very popular exercise for Olympic Weightlifters to use when training to improve their lifts.

improve the power clean with the overhead squatWhen performing the overhead squat one of the most commons things a coach will see is the toes turning outward.  While there may be reasons for some kids to turn their toes out, we try to have our kids keep their feet as straight as possible when performing this exercise.  From my experience, tight ankles usually create this issue.  Again, we implement slant boards and band stretches to help improve range of motion for the ankle.

Another issue a coach will often see when prescribing the overhead squat is that some kids may have tight hips and cannot get to depth because of this.  Once we know the hips are the issue, we utilize a series of stretches to help improve mobility.  A combination of static stretching, foam rolling, and band stretching are used to help improve range of motion.  With both issues, it will take time and consistency to see results as these are not quick fixes for athletes.  However, addressing these issues usually helps many areas, so it’s worth the time and energy.

Kettlebell Swings

The last exercise we will discuss to improve the power clean is the kettlebell (KB) swing.  There are many ways to perform the KB swing and for our purposes we perform it keeping the KB as close to the body as possible and focusing on hip involvement when executing the lift.  The initial movement of the KB swing is the crucial hinge of the hips backward before violently extending the hips forward.  We want to “snap” the hips forward, and the athlete should feel this snap when performed properly.  The bell should swing up to shoulder level, while keeping the arms straight.  A common mistake is the bending of the elbows which engages the upper body.  This is something we want to avoid.  The bending of the elbows also takes emphasis away from the hips.  We typically use the double arm swing, but you can also utilize a single arm version of the exercise.  When performing the single arm exercise the one additional coaching cue is that we turn the thumb backwards when the bell goes in between the legs.  The snap of the hips and minimal arm use is the exact same as the double arm version of the KB Swing.

The ability to produce substantial amounts of force into the ground and express it externally is the reason I use the power clean so extensively.  I believe that improving power output helps lead athletes to success on the playing field.  I’ve seen this power transfer to the playing field with many athletes including Michale Spicer, Bryce Cardin, and Jack Williams.  Michale was a defensive end who played for me when I was at Western Carolina University.  He had the biggest power clean I have ever seen in person, which was 425lbs.  Spicer also played professional football for 8 years in the NFL, AFL, and UFL.  Bryce Cardin played for me while at Strong Rock Christian School.  Cardin, who was an undersized offensive lineman, posted a 320lbs power clean while in high school and earned 1st Team All-Region honors as a senior because of play on the field.  Finally, Jack Williams was a defensive back who I coached at Kent State University.  Jack was the owner of a 343lbs power clean and was an All-Conference defensive back along with being a 4th round pick of the Denver Broncos.  He also spent time with the Detroit Lions, Chicago Rush, and Las Vegas Locomotives as a defensive back.

While their success obviously wasn’t exclusively the result of performing the power clean, I have seen many athletes improve the power clean which has led to improved performance on the field.

The power clean is an integral part of our training program and of many strength & conditioning programs, and these four exercises will help you coach and improve the power clean in your program.  Using assistance exercises to help increase an athlete’s ability to perform the exercise is critical in the development of the exercise itself.  The front squat, hang squat clean, overhead squat, and kettlebell swing are all exercises that help in the improvement of an athlete’s ability to perform the exercise safely, efficiently, and effectively.  Utilize these exercises to help improve the power clean and watch your athletes numbers skyrocket.

 

Tobias JacobiTobias  Jacobi has been a strength & conditioning coach at Strong Rock Christian School for 4 years and spent 15 years as a college S & C coach before that.  He spent time at East Carolina University, Charleston Southern University, Kent State University, Western Carolina University, Elon University, UNC-Chapel Hill and Cumberland University.  He holds multiple certifications, has worked with thousands of athletes at every level, and has spoken at clinics all over the country.

 

Learn more about power development and strength & conditioning in the IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification featuring the Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook.

How to Choose the Right Sports Performance Program

In the ever-changing world of youth athletics, it is becoming more common than ever for young athletes to participate in a sports performance program. This may be done on their own, with a team or within a school setting, but most young athletes are now engaging in some type of training to enhance athleticism. These programs can have a tremendous impact on a young athlete’s overall development, but they can also be a waste of time, or even worse, dangerous. How do you know what to look for in a quality training program? With coaches hard-selling and boasting about their sports performance programprograms, how do you choose the right one?

There are five key components to look for when seeking out a great sports performance program:

  • Culture
  • Administration
  • The Coaches
  • The Program
  • Your Goals

Culture
Every coach and/or training center will have a training culture, and it’s important to find the right fit. A culture will contain many things, but young athletes thrive in an environment that encourages fun, positive attitudes, respect and builds self-confidence. This is especially true for athletes under 14 years old. At this age, it’s important to enjoy the training process so athletes look forward to a more intense environment in the future. Pushing kids too hard – both mentally & physically – at an early age usually results in athletes who dislike training and will often lead to burnout and quitting. Look for a positive atmosphere where you see plenty of high fives, smiles and coaches “building kids up.” You should see positive reinforcement from the coach and plenty of teaching/instruction.

Between 12-14 years old, you might see a more intense sports performance program but the underlying culture should remain the same. There should always be a positive environment with coaches who serve as role models. Athletes should feel good about what they’re doing and praised for their effort. The culture is a direct representation of the coach/owner and and the overall intent of the program.

Avoid negative attitudes, high-pressure sales, or unrealistic promises. Not everyone will be attracted to the same culture, but make sure the kids feel comfortable because they’ll be spending a lot of time there.

If there are no quality trainer centers near you, or you simply can’t afford it, find a place that accommodates your needs. This may be a home gym, school weight room or local gym/recreation center. You’ll need adequate space and equipment depending on your goals, so find a place that will suit your needs.

 

Administration
How do things work with the coach or facility? How do you schedule appointments? What is the coach:athlete ratio? How are the athletes grouped?

All participants in a sports performance program should have the opportunity to thrive in a training environment, and good administration makes sure everything is well organized. This will ensure that you’re engaged with professionals who take this important job seriously.

Have you heard other people talk about training at a facility or with a coach? What was their experience? Have other athletes had success with the program? Athletes who have gone through a program should have positive things to say about it.

Do a little research to see what kind of track record a program has. Testimonials are helpful, but talking to someone you know can give you even more insight.

When observing a class you’ll want to see participants of similar ages/abilities together and interacting appropriately. This does not mean that every athlete in a group needs to be the same age or play the same sport, but the training goals should be similar or the coach should know how to modify the program for each athlete. Cookie-cutter programs aren’t always bad, but an individualized approach is always preferred.

Look for a relatively low coach:athlete ratio. A good coach can easily handle 20+ athletes in a team environment, but there should be a much lower ratio for a more individualized program. Smaller groups ensure more individual feedback, but most athletes thrive in groups. This is especially true for young athletes so that games and group activities can be utilized. A 1-on-1 session for a 9 year old has the potential to get pretty boring for the athlete. Being in groups also gives young athletes the opportunity to develop character traits such as leadership, teamwork, giving encouragement, empathy and respect. These things are much easier to address in a group setting.
The Coaches
Quality coaches are the most important thing to look for in a sports performance program. Coaches pretty much make or break a program, so make sure you’re with a good one. Not only will a good coach get performance results, but they should also address things like motivation, mindset, respect and the value of hard work.

Make sure that your coach is certified from a well known & respected organization such as the IYCA or NSCA. He/she should also have experience coaching athletes, and a proven track-record of producing results is definitely preferred. A degree in a related field (kinesiology, exercise science, physical education, etc.) is highly recommended, but there are a lot of exceptional youth coaches who got their education after receiving a college degree in an unrelated field. The coaches should have positive energy, be strong role models, and truly enjoy helping athletes develop.

Like culture, people are drawn to certain personalities or coaching styles, and it’s important you find the right fit. Have a conversation with the coach or staff to see if you get along and more importantly if your child gets along with the coach. The coach has to earn your trust as does your child. This trust will allow for proper growth of the athlete and continual trust in the program will also allow the coach to push the athlete to their potential.

Try not to get overwhelmed by past athletic accomplishments or a coach’s physique. While certainly not negatives, these things don’t necessarily mean he/she has the educational background or coaching ability to help you. It usually helps to have a coach who has some degree of athletic experience, but this should not be their #1 qualification. Some coaches are able to really utilize their experiences to benefit young athletes, while others were simply born with talent. So, take it into consideration (because it’s important), but try not to let it cloud your judgement if nothing else feels right.

If the facility has a large staff, don’t hesitate to request a coach your child loves, or ask to NOT train with someone your child really doesn’t like. This may not always happen, but a good program will make an effort to accommodate your needs.

Disrespectful or inappropriate comments or actions are a definite red flag. Having a negative coach in a child’s life can cause tremendous stress and can hard a child’s self-esteem and enjoyment of the training process. While it is sometimes necessary to be firm or have difficult conversations, good coaches can handle tough situations professionally.

Athletes who don’t live anywhere near a training facility now have online options available that will allow you to train at home. While this option may not be as optimal as having a live coach, it’s often the only option available. It can also be much less expensive and more convenient, so there are certainly reasons an athlete may choose to train alone.

Finding a great home-based sports performance program can be tricky, because every trainer with a web-site or social media presence may tell you this is an option. Just like looking for an in-person trainer, look for credentials, experience, values, and a proven track record. Make sure you have the equipment necessary to complete an at-home program. We’ll discuss at-home programs in much greater depth in the future, but consider it a second-tier option.

 

The Program
The actual training program is critical, but usually difficult for parents to truly understand. You won’t know precisely what the program will include, which is why it’s so important to find a qualified coach.

sports performance programAt a minimum, a good sports performance program should be very safe and organized. Sure, accidents happen, but a young athlete’s health is top priority, so they should never be engaged in anything dangerous. In general, if it doesn’t look safe, it probably isn’t. Kids may get sore and tired, but they shouldn’t sustain injuries from a training program.

The program should have a basic level of individualization, or at least include the opportunity for modification when appropriate. Most young athletes have a lot of the same needs, so there will be a great deal of similarity between programs for athletes, but the program should be flexible enough to address individual needs when needed. Most programs will address strength, running mechanics, jumping, fitness, mobility, agility, and coordination. Make sure the program is meeting your individual goals and that the coaches modify their program to help achieve those goals. At the very least, you should be able to receive an explanation of how and why the program will help work toward your goals.

There should be a great deal of teaching, instruction and feedback given, and there should be a progression to everything that is done. This means that the program will gradually get more demanding. The weight lifted, the volume of overall exercise and the intensity of the drills should gradually increase. We know that progressions or progressive overload is key to not only a younger athlete but more importantly to all athletes. Progressive overload is the principal in which each week you are progressively getting stronger our advancing toward a new technique. There should not be an emphasis on how much you can lift but how much progress is being made.

There is an old saying that the program should have the athlete conform to the program but the program should conform to the athlete. You want to ask questions about the program including expected results and core values in programming.pro agility shuttle

There should always be some sort of assessment to determine needs and establish baselines. This assessment will vary, but the coach should talk to you about the results and formulate a program based on those results. An assessment like the IYCA Big 5 or FMS will help find deficiencies and areas of concern, and a performance assessment will help establish baselines and give the coach a better understanding of how the athlete moves.  It’s always great if there is a movement analysis using video of the athlete performing various movements.

While the programs will vary greatly, it helps to hear about results from other athletes and ensure that the coaches are qualified.

Again, if you are looking for an at-home program, be sure you are getting what you need. Don’t try to replicate a D1 college football program with an 11-year old kid who has never lifted weights. Find a program that is specific to your goals & experience level, has delivered results, and is created by an experienced coach or organization.

 

Goals
Goal setting is crucial for any athlete, and it should be a part of a sports performance program. Make sure that your goals align with the facility and their goals for you child. Training is an investment of time and energy, and it’s not uncommon for young athletes to spend several years training at a facility. You want to make sure they understand your long-term goals, so they are invested in your success and development.

For example, there are some facilities/programs that focus exclusively on strength development. If your goal is to run faster, this is probably not the right place for you. Typically, a sports performance training program will be able to address multiple goals – speed, strength, mobility, conditioning, etc. – but you want to make sure to ask if there is a program to specifically address your goals.

Teaching goal setting, and the process of working toward goals is a skill that will serve athletes well in all facets of life. Let them dream, let them strive for success. In a world so based on technology, having goals can help set them up for success. It’s even a great idea to include non-sports related goals such as academic or personal goals. Remember, a student-athlete is always a student first, so keep that in mind when setting goals.

Selecting a sports performance program or facility is an important choice – perhaps more important than you think – and there are many things to consider. The five components outlined here should help in your decision making process. From the culture to the facility to the coaches themselves, you want to make sure you find a place that is comfortable, fun, engaging and creates programs that help the athlete move toward their goals. Ask questions, talk to others and hopefully you’ll end up finding a comfortable fit for a long time.

 

About the Author:  Brad Leshinske is the founder of the Athletic Edge Sports Performance program in Chicago and an adjunct faculty member at North Park University.  He has more than 10 years of experience training athletes of all ages and at every level of competition.

 

Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning

 

To learn about sports performance from 17 of the top strength & conditioning professionals in the business, be sure to check out the IYCA’s Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook.

Strength Training Program Blueprint – Mark Naylor

Whether you are training with a full body, an upper/lower split, or a body part routine, daily strength training program design and order of exercise is vital for the overall strength development and safety. Each training day should start with a complete warm-up. Warm-up activities should consist of general activities to increase body temperature before moving to mobility and muscle activation work which addresses joints and muscles that will be worked on that particular day. The warm-up should end with specific movements that the athlete will see during the training day. The warm-up should be concise and not take up too much of the total training time allowed for the day.

After the warm-up, the strength training program should be completed in a systematic order. As stated previously, this order of exercise should increase performance as well as prevent any training induced injury. The first exercise performed should be the one that requires the highest degree of technical proficiency and/or speed of movement. If you incorporate Olympic movements into your program or have traditional barbell exercises performed at a high rate of speed, the beginning of the training session is the appropriate place for these exercises. The Strength & Conditioning Professional (SCP) should have the athlete complete a few warm-up sets, gradually increasing load until he or she is ready to complete the first working set.

If no explosive movements are included in that training day, the next lift should be the primary multi-joint movements of the day. These exercises typically include squats, deadlifts, and multi-joint upper body pressing. Additional warm-up sets may be needed, gradually increasing in weight to the working sets.

After the explosive or primary movements are completed, supplemental or assistance movements should be performed. There are many ways to organize these lifts, from a push/pull fashion to setting up a circuit or stations. There is not a wrong way to set up the rest of the training day as long as supervision, technique, and effort are monitored and coached. This being said, many supplemental exercises are important for athletic development and this is where many individual and sport-specific needs will be addressed. For example, exercises that address the posterior chain, the neck/trap region, and the core are necessary and should be included each day of training. Areas of concern such as the rotator cuff, grip, and hip work should also be addressed here.

Below is an example of a full body template with exercises plugged in. Notice there are no sets and reps included. This is provided only to show order of exercise.

While this is a very condensed version of strength training program design, it gives you a template to work from.  No program should be 100% “cookie cutter,” but this template makes it easy to plug in exercises knowing that you’re creating a comprehensive and properly sequenced strength training program.

This is a short excerpt from Mark Naylor’s chapter on Strength Training Program Design in the IYCA’s Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning textbook.  Click on the image below to learn more about this book:

Principles of Athletic Strength & Conditioning

Mark Naylor is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach for the University of Michigan Football Program.  He previously served as the Director of Ball State University’s football strength & conditioning program and has also spent time with the Baltimore Ravens and at Missouri Southern.  He earned his BS from Missouri Southern and his MS from Ball State University.

Don’t Get Strong Wrong

Among the many concepts I’ve learned from my experiences as a strength and conditioning coach is: “Don’t get strong wrong.” 

Simple and straight to the point. Getting strong wrong is simply loading up athletes on lifts where their mechanics are either poor to begin with, or are being affected negatively due to the load being too heavy for the athlete to complete a full range of motion. This is where we see half squats, rounded backs on deadlifts, barbells stapling athlete’s chests on the bench press, cleans being pulled in atrociously inefficient manners, etc. The list goes on and on. The implications are numerous and can prove to be quite detrimental for the athlete.

This phrase perfectly depicts how poor strength coaches reveal themselves. Unfortunately athletes getting “strong wrong” is occurring more often than not at both the high school, colleges and private facilities across the country.

When an athlete adds weight to a dysfunctional movement, the risk of injury increases exponentially. This is brutally counterproductive considering one of the main responsibilities of a strength and conditioning coach is to prevent injuries. Athletes exposed to months, or years, of dysfunctional strength training may take just as long to properly learn or improve these imperative movements with less weight, and thus are not accomplishing the goals set forth by their strength coach. Time is of the essence when it comes to youth, high school, or collegiate level athletes. Having to take precious time to fix bad habits limits their potential under a strength coach’s watch.

Secondly, the poor motor patterns that are now being learned by athletes can become ingrained in the nervous system, and thus cause a multitude of problems down the road. Joint mobility and flexibility are sacrificed which leads to frequent soft tissue injuries taking place on the practice and playing field. It is assumed that to develop strength throughout the joint’s full range of motion, training must be performed throughout that range. A great example is provided when further dissecting the squat.

Studies show that maximum quad EMG is displayed at 80+ degrees of a squat and that maximum glute EMG is at 90+ degrees. We know that getting parallel to the ground is shown at 90 degrees but with athletes taking short cuts due to heavy weight they are neglecting two enormous muscle groups that are responsible for joint actions that are crucial for sport. Coaches need to remember that these are athletes they are working with, and sports are unpredictable. Taxing the body through its full range of motion with a little less weight, as opposed to overloading the body with a half rep, will better prepare the body for the unknown bends and twists that are associated with sports.

Lastly, what getting strong wrong does to an athlete’s psyche can be just as problematic as the physical repercussions. Coaches that teach or allow improper form, yet record the results, lead kids to believe they are capable of much more than they actually are. These young athletes boast about their weight room numbers (and 40 yard dash times) that are so far from the truth it’s painful to listen to. I’ve listened to dozens of kids talk about their massive squat numbers only to watch them perform half reps.  The problem stems from coaches pumping kids up and wanting to show off these big numbers to make it look like they are the best strength coach around for producing such great results.  There is a fine line between boosting confidence and creating delusion.

Smart coaches understand games aren’t won with deceptive bench press numbers, but rather with healthy athletes who are able to play to the best of their ability. At certain levels, the strength coach is around their athletes more often than their position or head coaches. Actions and messages portrayed by the strength coach can often resonate with athletes. Pushing these false standards of success can send out the message that it’s okay to cut corners. Keep the lessons and messages honest. After all, one of the best privileges of being a coach of any kind is seeing an athlete grow to become an honorable human being, not just a standout on the playing field.

So what can coaches do to prevent the bad habit of getting strong wrong? The easiest answer would be to simply teach athletes proper execution from day one, then begin progressive overload in a safe and efficient manner.  For those working with large groups or teams, the ability to perform sound repetitions with a full range of motion simply won’t occur with every athlete. Varying levels of skill and experience are evident at every turn. A coach must focus on the following:

  1. Performing a well-executed warm-up involving the desired muscles and joints that will be utilized during the specific exercise and session.
  2. When introducing a new exercise, or covering a more advanced movement, always begin by teaching a bodyweight version, a regressed version, or utilizing teaching aids (dowels, practice bars, etc.) to perform the exercise.
  3. Progress an exercise or begin to progressively overload in a safe manner when proper range of motion and understanding of the exercise has taken place.
  4. Possess a coaching repertoire of regressions, modifications, and simple weight room aids to solve any dysfunctional patterns that occur.

Not every athlete will learn or progress at the same pace. Many factors come into play such as age, sex, training status, height, weight, etc. A successful strength coach should always be able to teach proper movement mechanics and make any adjustment necessary to prevent getting strong wrong.

 

Joe Powell is an Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach and Adjust Faculty Member at Central Michigan University.  He has experience in a variety of settings including Division I Athletics, private sports performance, high school S & C, personal training and teaching college courses.

 

The IYCA High School Strength & Conditioning Specialist Certification is the only certification geared toward training high school aged athletes.  Click on the image below to learn more about this unique product.